It’s been a week since the passing of Leonard Nimoy and we’ve all dealt with his loss in a multitude of ways and through our own stages of grief. However, I think it is safe to say that through this difficult process, we as Star Trek fans, can pay no better homage to Mr. Nimoy than in revisiting the vast body of work he left with the franchise.
The following is a look at my own 10 favorite episodes that focus on Spock. Taste and preference is often subjective, of course, and this list is not meant to be definitive or exhaustive. Rather, it’s a collection of episodes that I feel is the most representative of Spock’s legacy as a character both of the original 1960s television show and in the larger Star Trek universe. It was a wonderful and touching experience selecting and revisiting these episodes and I would love to hear what your personal favorites are in the comments section below.
For the sake of simplicity, this article only covers television episodes that span across three distinct series (The Original Series, The Animated Series, and The Next Generation). Additionally, the episodes are not ranked in any sort of authoritative ranking, but rather listed in the order in which they were produced. I know that I left out episodes that many of you would have put into your own list, but that is the beautiful irony of Spock: his impact on Star Trek was so vast that any episode list (even one that went beyond a collection of ten episodes) couldn’t do his character complete justice.
“Galileo Seven” – Season 1, Episode 13
This episode is a standout episode for me because it’s the first time (but certainly not the last time) that the series places Spock in command while under incredibly difficult circumstances. Here, Spock is the ranking officer aboard the shuttlecraft “Galileo” among six other crewmembers including Doctor McCoy and Chief Engineer Scott. Unfortunately the shuttlecraft is forced to make an emergency landing on a planet populated by hostile alien giants. Throughout the course of the episode, Spock is forced to rely on all of his skills, not just his scientific and technical ones, but also his leadership skills in order to ward off the giants’ attacks but also growing dissension among his crew members.
“I am not interested in the opinion of the majority, Mister Gaetano!”
– Spock to Lieutenant Gaetano. It’s a great line that shows the command ability of Spock, the Enterprise’s First Officer, and his prescient recognition that aboard a starship, there is no democracy.
“The Menagerie Parts 1 and 2” – Season 1, Episodes 15 and 16
The only two-part episode in the run of the original Star Trek television series, this episode is a direct call-back to the pilot episode “The Cage” with Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike in command of the Enterprise. Eleven years prior to James Kirk commanding the ship, Spock was aboard the Enterprise as a young lieutenant and coincidentally also the ship’s science officer back then. While aboard, he witnessed Captain Pike encounter a race of alien beings known as the Talosians with powerful telepathic abilities. Years later, after Pike had been left in a crippled, paralyzed state by a freak accident, Spock would remember this encounter with the Talosians to devise a way for his old friend and captain to find some sort of solace from his paralyzed state, even if it meant breaking Starfleet regulations to do so. This is a powerful episode that vividly demonstrated that despite Spock’s seemingly cold logical exterior, on the inside, still beat a heart that cared, above all else, for the well-being of his friends and comrades. It’s an excellent foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew will willingly endure for him in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
“Mr. Spock, even if regulations are explicit, you could have come to me and explained.”
“Ask you to face the death penalty too? One of us was enough, captain.”
– Kirk to Spock after the Talosians reveal the truth. Spock’s answer subtly reveals the type of self-sacrifice and selflessness that imbues his character, which will be demonstrated most notably in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
“This Side of Paradise” – Season 1, Episode 25
In this episode, the Enterprise discovers a planet full of colonists who they initially thought were dead but are in fact thriving because of a mysterious alien spore indigenous to the planet. Here, Spock discovers that an old flame of his, Leila Kalomi, is also alive and present and they rediscover their love for one another. Spock here is emotive in a way that is rarely seen in the series and shows a surprisingly tender and loving side. However, as we learn, this is all a result of the spores and its manipulation of those it actively infects. Although this episode ends with Spock and the rest of the crew breaking free of the spores’ control, it still ends on a bittersweet and melancholy note, for Spock most of all.
“I have little to say about it, captain. Except that for the first time in my life, I was happy.”
– Spock to Kirk, describing his experience on the planet’s surface and with Leila.
“The Devil in the Dark” – Season 1, Episode 26
This episode has a special place in my heart because its message is so thoroughly Star Trek, even before Star Trek was actually a common frame of pop cultural reference. Here a mining colony has specifically requested the Enterprise help them in finding and stopping a mysterious creature that is killing the colony’s workers and threatening the supply and delivery of the colony’s precious minerals to other worlds. The most redeeming factor of this episode is how Spock expertly provides a much needed non-human perspective to the situation. It is he who suggests that there’s perhaps an alternative to killing the creature, called a Horta, and it is he who is eventually able to break down the barriers of communication through a mind-meld with the creature. This allows for the eventual peaceful co-existence between the miners and the Horta. This type of message, one that espouses tolerance, co-existence, and mutual understanding, is one that will survive in many subsequent Star Trek iterations and it all starts here.
“The Horta has a very logical mind. And after close association with humans, I find that curiously refreshing.”
– Spock to Kirk at the end of episode and demonstrating some of that dry, droll wit his character is known for.
“Amok Time” – Season 2, Episode 5
Spock, going through the biological urges for Vulcan sexual mating known as pon farr, returns to his home planet to marry his betrothed, T’Pring, or he will perish. On the surface of the planet, he engages in a ritual intended to have him fight for T’Pring’s hand in marriage. Through a quirk of circumstance and manipulation, Kirk is chosen as T’Pring’s champion and the person with whom Spock has to fight and kill in order to succeed. This episode is a classic one which sets into foundation one of the many key building blocks of what we as fans now recognize as essential pieces of Vulcan culture and mythology. It describes in vivid terms of the complex and raging emotions that lie just underneath the surface of most Vulcans, of which Spock (who is also half-human) faces on an even more poignant and difficult level. It also introduces the character of T’Pau, who we will in a younger incarnation in Season 4 of Enterprise during the “Kir’Shara” trilogy.
“How do Vulcans choose their mates? Haven’t you wondered?”
“I guess the rest of us assume that it’s done… quite logically.”
“No. It is not.”
– Spock to Kirk on the nature of pon farr. This is also quite possibly the greatest understatement in the entire series.
“Doomsday Machine” – Season 2, Episode 6
This episode is another great showcase of Spock in command. When the Enterprise responds to the distress signal of its sister ship, the Constellation, they discover only that its skipper, Commodore Matt Decker, is still alive and demonstrating clear symptoms of PTSD. He vows revenge on the alien “Doomsday Machine” that destroyed his ship and crew at all cost. Having been thrust into command with Kirk being stranded aboard the wrecked and drifting Constellation, Spock is on a direct collision course with Decker as the Commodore pulls rank and commandeers the Enterprise. This is just a wonderful episode that demonstrates the Spock’s spine of steel and his impeccable ability to operate and succeed under incredibly difficult circumstances.
“Commodore, I do not wish to place you under arrest.”
“You wouldn’t dare.” (Spock signals the guards forward) “You’re bluffing.”
“Vulcans never bluff.”
– Spock and Decker, as Spock relieves Decker of command Additional
Gene Roddenberry in his novelization of The Motion Picture noted that Commander Willard Decker in the movie is actually Commodore Matt Decker’s son.
“Journey to Babel” – Season 2, Episode 15
This episode is another standout classic because it establishes so many fundamental elements of Trek canon: introducing the Andorians and the Tellarites as well as Spock’s father, Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan. It is also a pivotal episode, as noted by the episode’s writer, the famed D.C. Fontana, because it was the first time so many aliens were assembled in a single place and time on the series. It establishes the foundation for the tumultuous relationship between Spock and Sarek, which Leonard Nimoy himself stated was a worthwhile allegory for the often rocky relationship that many individuals have with their own parents, often in attempts to navigate and reconcile their own impulses and the expectations of others. And of course, this episode is the genesis of the now-infamous “Andorian Fight Scene!” meme that has now flooded the Internet, most notably on the various weekly shows of Trek.fm.
“You’re human, too. Let that part of you come through.”
– Amanda, Spock’s human mother, pleading with him to save Sarek’s life
Additional Fun Fact:
This episode also provides the first on-screen reference to a Vulcan pet known as a sehlat. Spock’s sehlat will be seen in The Animated Series episode “Yesteryear”, also written by D.C. Fontana.
“The Enterprise Incident” – Season 3, Episode 4
This third season episode has the unique distinction of being only a handful of episodes in The Original Series that directly dealt with the mysterious Romulans. This episode is in many ways, “The Last Temptation of Spock”, in which the alluring Romulan Commander attempts to appeal to Spock’s internal turmoil between his human and Vulcan instincts and get him to switch allegiances away from the Federation and deliver the Enterprise to Romulus. In a wonderful and subtle piece of acting, Nimoy demonstrates a deft spectrum of emotions that range from feelings of romantic attraction and intimacy to deceit and subterfuge. This episode also has the distinction of featuring the first-ever on-screen depiction of a female starship commander.
“Military secrets are the most fleeting of all. I hope that you and I exchanged something more permanent.”
– Spock to the Romulan commander, in the melancholy and emotionally gripping conclusion which has the Romulan commander being detained by Starfleet.
“All of Our Yesterdays” – Season 3, Episode 23
In the penultimate episode of the original series, Spock, McCoy, and Kirk find themselves trapped in a doomed planet’s distant pasts. In my opinion, Leonard Nimoy gives one of his finest performances here with his gradual regression to his emotional self, his conflict with McCoy, and his beautiful but tragically brief relationship with Zarabeth, a fellow exile with them in the past. We’ve seen Spock previously struggle with both his Vulcan and human sides, but this episode demonstrates that Spock’s struggle with emotions is not necessarily a result of a clash between those two sides. Rather, it could be his actual Vulcan side, one that is in a raw and younger stage of development that could be the source. It demonstrates that not all Vulcans are necessarily cold, emotionless, and logical by default and foreshadows a more nuanced take on the race that will be further explored in Enterprise.
“And she is dead now. Dead and buried. Long ago.”
– Spock to McCoy, on Zarabeth, in one of the most gut-wrenching conclusions in the series.
“Unification Parts 1 and 2” – TNG Season 5, Episodes 7 and 8
In 1991, on the heels of the original crew’s cinematic farewell in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Spock made an appearance on The Next Generation in a much-anticipated two-part episode. Captain Picard is sent by Starfleet to recover Spock, who they believe has defected to the Romulan Empire. This episode is memorable in so many ways: from Sarek’s final on-screen appearance, the uncanny symmetry between Data and Spock demonstrated by their conversation together, and Spock’s comparisons of Picard and Kirk. While it’s safe to say that many fans feel that this two-parter could have been much stronger than what we ultimately saw on-screen, the concluding scene when Spock mind-melds with Picard to finally understand what his father Sarek truly thought of him is a moving and indelible tribute to life-long Trek fans everywhere.
“In your own way, you are as stubborn as another captain of the Enterprise I once knew.”
“Then I am in good company, sir.”
– Spock and Picard
BONUS: “Yesteryear” – The Animated Series, Season 1, Episode 2
In a previous entry, I noted the reference to a sehlat in “Journey to Babel”. In this episode of The Animated Series, we actually get to see Spock’s sehlat named I-Chaya. But more importantly, this episode provides an excellent foundation to many concepts and ideas of Spock’s background and Vulcan society as a whole that would be referenced in later live-action works. Michael and Denise Okuda and even reportedly Gene Roddenberry himself have admitted that of all of the episodes of The Animated Series, this episode is the one that is the closest to being canon.
“Earther! Barbarian! Emotional Earther! You’re a Terran, Spock! You could never be a true Vulcan!”
“That is not true! My father…”
“Your father brought shame to Vulcan. He married a Human! You haven’t even mastered a simple Vulcan neck pinch yet, Earther!”
– Sofek and Spock, in a scene that clearly foreshadows the events shown in 2009’s Star Trek reboot
photos: CBS Home Entertainment
Will Nguyen lives in the Boston area. You can tweet him at @Will_Nguyen. He’s also a regular contributor to Warp 5, a weekly Enterprise show on Trek.fm, a dedicated podcast network that talks about every aspect of the Trek universe from television, the movies, literature, and everything in between.