In the pantheon of science fiction aliens, few are more iconic than Star Trek’s science officer/first officer/Captain/Ambassador Spock. Honestly, who would you put ahead of the universe’s most famous Vulcan? Yoda? E.T.? Chewbacca? The Alien aliens? A pretty good case could be made for Spock.
He’s appeared in the original Star Trek series, the animated series, six original Star Trek movies, a couple of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, soon to be three reboot movies and countless other places across pop culture in different forms. Adult Spock has now been portrayed by two actors, first by the late Leonard Nimoy, and currently by Zachary Quinto, both with the stoic logic and deceptively big heart that is the trademark of Spock and his fellow Vulcans.
As we get ready for his latest appearance in Star Trek Beyond, here are 15 Things You Need to Know About Spock.
With the 2009 reboot, Star Trek, an alternate timeline was introduced (recently officially declared The Kelvin Timeline), featuring all the original characters played by different actors. Although there was the whole issue of original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) being there, alongside new Spock (Zachary Quinto). How was all this possible? Well, it was thanks to Spock himself.
As the story goes, Romulas, home planet of the Romulans, was being destroyed by a supernova. Original Spock tried to stop the supernova from destroying any other planets by creating a singularity, but while doing so, Spock’s ship and a Romulan ship were dragged into the singularity and both were flushed out into different points in the past. In the past, the Romulan ship attacked Captain James T. Kirk’s father’s (George Kirk) ship, the USS Kelvin, and George ultimately died just as James was being born. All this creates The Kelvin Timeline, as history is altered due to George’s death, which didn’t occur in the original timeline. All this is to say, you have Spock to blame for your brain exploding in confusion.
In the mid-60s, when Gene Roddenberry was trying to get Star Trek on the air, it may have been the early stages of the freaky-deeky psychedelic, free-love era, but much of America was still living under the super-conservative 1950s mindset. So it’s not too much of a surprise to know that NBC executives at first wanted to cut the Spock character from the show because he looked too Satanic, with his pointed ears and eyebrows.
It was producer Oscar Katz who helped convince those execs to let the Vulcan’s freak flag fly, “evil” angular features and all, despite him saying those execs were afraid “the ‘guy with the ears’ would scare the sh*t out of every kid in America.” Still, in early publicity photos for the series, Spock just looked like another guy in a Federation shirt, albeit one with oddly high-cropped bangs – the points of his eyebrows and ears were airbrushed out.
It may be difficult to imagine anyone but Leonard Nimoy as the original Spock, but the original choice was Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy himself, DeForest Kelley. It certainly would’ve been a lesser world without McCoy’s hilarious jabs at Spock coming out of the mouth of Kelley, and without Spock jabbing right back with his fellow blue-shirt. Take this classic: Spock: “Random chance seems to have operated in our favor.” Bones: “In plain, non-Vulcan English, we’ve been lucky.” Spock: “I believe I have said that, Doctor.”
Kelley himself told Star Trek Monthly, “It wouldn’t have worked with me as Spock.” But even Kelley wasn’t the only famous choice before Nimoy to play the Enterprise’s original resident alien. Gene Roddenberry also considered 1960s Batman Adam West, which would’ve made for a battle of iconic, laid-back voices with William Shatner as Captain Kirk. Even Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) says she originally auditioned for the role of Spock, but some believe she may have actually auditioned for the role of “Number One,” which was cut before filming the first episode of the original series and whose role as first officer was handed to Spock.
Certainly this is old news for die-hard Trekkies or Trekkers, but might raise a Spockian eyebrow for casual fans: Spock is famous for being a Vulcan, but he’s actually only half-Vulcan. While his father, Sarek (more on him to come), was a high-ranking native of the planet Vulcan, their Ambassador to the United Federation of Planets, his mother was a human woman named Amanda Grayson.
While Vulcans are notoriously unemotional, the same, obviously, cannot be said of humans. So the two sides are often in conflict, and as a child he was teased by full-blooded Vulcan kids into showing emotion. But his decision, when he was younger, to end the life of a badly injured pet led him to follow Surak, a legendary Vulcan philosopher who emphasized logic and control over one’s emotions. And he would later decline acceptance into the Vulcan Science Academy because he knew, due to his half-human side, he would never be seen as an equal among teachers and peers.
Though he’s referred to as Spock, when written out, that appears to be his last name. In the Vulcan language, Spock’s actual full name is S'chn T'gai Spock. In the original series episode, “This Side of Paradise,” Spock meets a love interest named Leila Kalomi, thanks to a blast of spores that temporarily release his emotions, but ultimately he can’t return her affections. When she asks if he has “another name,” he responds, “You couldn’t pronounce it.”
All that being said, some of this is debatable. He definitely said his “other” name is unpronounceable, but it seems that it isn’t really his first name. Since his father’s full name is S’chn T’gai Sarek, it would seem that Vulcans structure their name similarly to Koreans, with the family name coming first and the given name last. The name S’chn T’gai has never been uttered or revealed on screen, but was first written out in a Star Trek novel called Ishmael in 1985.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was insistent that Spock would have pointy ears. He was an alien, after all, so he shouldn't look too human. So a number of concepts were created before the iconic, slightly curved ears were settled upon. Nimoy wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of wearing them – after all, they took about 45 minutes to apply in the early days. But a producer told him, “‘If, after episode 10 or 12, you’re still unhappy, we’ll have Bones do an ear-job operation.”
Clearly, that never had to happen because viewers loved the Vulcan science officer and his pointy ears. But it wasn’t like they could create one pair of ears for a full season or movie shoot. They’ve never been reusable, so every time Nimoy or Quinto wears a pair, they’re either tossed in the garbage or make their way onto a collector’s shelf. In fact, if you’re in Washington, D.C. you can go visit a pair in the National Museum of American History. And, weird fact: there’s a sect of humanity out there who have actually had plastic surgery to make their ears pointy in honor of Spock or Lord of the Rings elves. Just a thought, Zachary Quinto, it would save a lot of time in the makeup chair.
The now-ubiquitous Vulcan salute first appeared in the first episode of the second season of the original Star Trek series, way back in 1967 – that means it turns 50 years old next year. Made by spreading your fingers into a V, with the ring and pinky fingers together on one side and the middle and index on the other, it’s intended to be both a greeting and a gesture of farewell, sometimes accompanied by the words, "Live long and prosper."
And it was created not by a writer, director, or anyone else behind the scenes. It was created by Nimoy himself, based on a gesture he learned as a child made by a Jewish Kohanim (priest) as part of a blessing. It means Almighty God. While the Vulcan salute uses just one hand, the original blessing uses both hands performing the same gesture and represents the Hebrew letter Shin. The salute, of course, became massively popular and was even done by astronauts to honor Nimoy upon his death in 2015, and President Obama gave Nimoy the salute when the two met.
While the Vulcan salute was second nature to the original Spock, the new Spock, Zachary Quinto, has been unable to master it. In fact, for 2009’s reboot, Star Trek, Quinto had to squeeze the appropriate fingers together and spread the appropriate ones apart with his other hand off camera before filming a Vulcan salute scene. But other times, they actually had to glue his fingers together to get the shot right.
In Quinto’s defense, he’s certainly not the only one who’s had trouble with it. As the original Captain Kirk, William Shatner couldn’t do it and had to dip into his tackle box for some fishing line to tie his fingers together. Like raising a single eyebrow (another Spockian gesture), it’s just one of those things that some people can do and others can’t. Some people can do the Vulcan salute with one hand but not the other, others can easily do it with both.
As we all know, actors can get very attached to their characters. At times, that can work against them, but other times it can lead to decisions that make more sense for their character than decisions made by producers, writers and directors. Case in point: Leonard Nimoy’s creation of the Vulcan nerve pinch.
The script for the fifth episode of the original series’ first season, “The Enemy Within,” said that Spock “kayoes” the evil version of Captain Kirk. That sounded rather violent for a Vulcan, opined Nimoy, especially Spock, who preferred not to resort to extreme violence unless innocent lives were threatened. It’s hard to imagine Spock hauling back and whacking his best friend over the head. So Nimoy conceived of a more dignified maneuver, a simple pinch of the shoulder that triggered a cluster of nerves into knocking the victim out. Just try to tell us you haven’t wished at least once… or a few dozen… times in your life that you could actually power down some annoying soul with a Vulcan nerve pinch of your own.
That’s right, speaking of everybody’s favorite subtle knockout maneuver, worlds have collided and Wolverine was once put out of commission by Nimoy’s creation, the Vulcan nerve pinch. First of all, how was it possible for those two worlds to collide? In 1996, Marvel Comics produced a one-off crossover book called Star Trek/X-Men, written by Scott Lobdell.
In it, Kirk, Spock and the crew of the Enterprise are cruising through the galaxy when they spot another ship being destroyed by a rift in space. That destroyed ship just happened to be carrying seven members of the X-Men, who had secretly transported themselves onto the Enterprise just before the destruction. Of course, at first, the Enterprise crew didn’t know they were dealing with good guys. Spock sensed the stowaways and when he came upon the hyper-violent Wolverine, the non-violent Vulcan slapped him with a nerve pinch, briefly putting Logan on the sidelines.
Spock was originally conceived of as a Martian. Mars being the “red planet,” Roddenberry decided that would mean the character should have red skin. There were a couple of reasons they didn’t follow through on this plan. First, there was a sensitive racial issue. Technology as it was in the mid-60s, many people still had black-and-white TVs. So for those viewers who could only see shades of grey, Nimoy’s skin would not appear to be red, but a shade of dark grey, which would make him appear to be wearing blackface. Not good.
The other issue with the red skin was a logical matter of time, which Spock would appreciate. It would simply take too much time every day to smear Nimoy’s face with red makeup every morning. In the end, they did apply some makeup to give Spock a bit of an alien sheen, but it was a more subtle yellowish green.
Spock and his late father Sarek had a bumpy relationship. It had long been a distant one, but it was Spock’s decision to join Starfleet Academy that broke the tribble’s back, as it were. Sarek had wanted Spock to join the Vulcan Science Academy, more or less following in his footsteps as an astrophysicist. As a result, father and son didn’t speak for 18 years, until the time of the Coridan debate in the original series, when Sarek had a series of heart attacks and required a blood transfusion from Spock.
From there on, all was shiny and happy between the two. That is until Spock died in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But it was Sarek who helped resurrect his son, against all odds, by performing an ancient Vulcan ritual called Fal-Tor-Pan in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, reasoning that even his ingrained Vulcan logic faltered when it came to his love for his son. Some time after Spock was resurrected, Sarek even apologized to his son for the whole “why didn’t you follow in my footsteps?” issue that led to their 18-year estrangement.
There’s always been a soft spot in Spock’s hybrid heart for the universe’s varied fauna. In fact, he had a childhood pet on Vulcan, a fanged bear-like creature called a sehlat. It was mentioned in the original series and depicted in the animated series, amusingly described in the script like this: “A sehlat can be dangerous as hell. If you make a wrong move, a sehlat will probably rip your arm off... but Vulcans never make wrong moves. That would be illogical."
He also adored those infamous fuzzballs, the tribbles, and is generally opposed to the taking of a life, unless the circumstances are particularly threatening. So it follows that, like all Vulcans (and Nimoy himself), he’s a vegetarian. In fact, he was TV’s first vegetarian in a major role. He once ate meat out of desperation in the original series and was appalled with himself, groaning, “I’m behaving disgracefully. I have eaten animal flesh and I’ve enjoyed it. What is wrong with me?”
But was he? It’s certainly the popular belief that Spock was the first Vulcan in Starfleet, but it’s actually a contentious topic among Trekkies/Trekkers. One thing cannot be denied: He’s definitely the first Vulcan depicted to be in Starfleet. But even that statement is somewhat complicated.
First of all, there are two different Starfleets: United Earth Starfleet and Federation Starfleet. United Earth Starfleet (or Starfleet Earth) came first, in terms of canon chronology, and in the series Star Trek: Enterprise, which takes place before the original series and Spock, we see the Vulcan woman T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) as a Commander in Starfleet Earth. The Starfleet we more commonly know is Federation Starfleet, and that’s where Spock is said to be the first. But even then, the original series depicts the all-Vulcan crew of the Federation’s USS Intrepid, which muddies the claim somewhat that Spock was the first Vulcan in Starfleet.
After the first feature film, 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Leonard Nimoy was done with all the hand gestures, pointy ears, neck pinches and logic. He didn’t want to play Spock anymore. If he hadn’t, Star Trek history would be vastly different. And we wouldn’t have had one of its greatest scenes: the Spock death scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).
But part of the reason that scene at the end of the movie is so great is because that’s how Nimoy was convinced to come back: he was promised a super dramatic death scene. The first film was expensive to make and didn't quite make as much as anticipated, plus critics were lukewarm on it, so Khan was originally going to be the final Star Trek movie and Nimoy felt the heroic death scene, sacrificing himself for his friends and crew, would be the perfect way to go out. And it sure was. It’s a touching scene of friendship and heroism amidst all the space adventure, ranked the best scene in Star Trek history by IGN.
Star Trek Beyond will arrive in theaters July 22, 2016.