Top 5 Star Trek Original Series Episodes: A Tribute to Leonard NimoyMarch 3, 2015
We have lost one of our most extraordinarily talented people. Leonard Nimoy passed away Friday, February 27 at the age of 83 at his home in Los Angeles after a battle with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
For 50 years Nimoy played Spock: the human-Vulcan hybrid Starfleet officer and diplomat for the United Federation of Planets. The character is undoubtedly and one of the most important and popular characters in the Star Trek universe. Nimoy’s work on the series earned him Primetime Emmy nominations for three consecutive years in the late 1960s; his performance was so original and unique to anything else of the time (or perhaps since) so it’s no wonder the nominations were earned. Nimoy’s artistic contributions to the character and American pop culture in general are massive, the most famous being the Vulcan salute, which was based on a sign he observed Rabbis making during Jewish blessings while growing up in Boston. While it’s difficult to quantify, Star Trek’s success as a whole can be largely attributed to the part he played.
Nimoy went on the reprise the role in the Star Trek film series with eight appearances, more than any other actor to date. His significance with the franchise went well beyond his work as an actor as he took up the directors mantle for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: A Voyage Home. Nimoy also suggested the Cold War metaphor storyline that developed into Star VI: The Undiscovered Country, my personal favorite. He was a lifelong champion of women’s rights and the environment. Nimoy was a great man and I will never forget that impact that he has had on the world and myself. As a tribute to one of my personal heroes, I have compiled this list of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series.
The Doomsday Machine
Synopsis: After losing his entire crew to an alien planet-eating machine, Commodore Matthew Decker pulls rank on Kirk in order to play a game of cat-and-mouse with the mechanical adversary. His efforts to destroy the menace place the Enterprise in grave danger. Confronted with an official order from a superior officer, Spock has no choice but to let Decker assume command.
Why We Love It: The episode where they fought the space bugle! This was essentially Moby Dick in space. William Windom’s performance as Commodore Decker is very over the top but also incredibly memorable and tragic. Notably, the character’s son, Matthew Decker, would be added as key figure in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
This was one of the rare instances in the series where Kirk and Spock had to deal with a senior officer who pulled rank on them. Spock’s calm, logical approach to dealing with Decker almost gets everyone killed, but the integrity of the chain-of-command is kept intact.
The Galileo Seven
Synopsis: Spock and a scientific party are sent to study the Murasaki 312 quasar aboard the shuttle Galileo. During the survey, the Galileo is forced to make an emergency landing on the planet Taurus II, where the crew fight the planet’s dangerous inhabitants. As the crew begin to make repairs, Scotty determines that the shuttle does not have enough fuel to reach orbit carrying all seven passengers, and Spock must contemplate leaving some of his fellow crew behind.
Why We Love It: This first season episode provided fantastic development for Spock’s character and his unique (and stubborn) leadership style. He’s presented with his own personal Kobayashi Maru scenario and forced to make a Hail Mary play to get his team out of a dire situation. This show also set the archetype for the ‘shuttle team stranded on the planet’ scenario that would be repeated in the Star Trek franchise over and over again.
The Enterprise Incident
Synopsis: The Enterprise is caught spying on the Romulans and Kirk’s sanity is brought into question. Spock seduces a Romulan commander in an attempt to steal a cloaking device.
Why We Love It: Three words: Vulcan. Death. Grip.
This was an episode considered to be the foundation for the franchise and the Romulan species in particular. The Federation uses somewhat morally questionable tactics against a foreign power in the pursuit of the ‘greater good’. Espionage and deceit didn’t seem like something that the noble Federation would use, but they do. While Starfleet is primarily an exploratory agency, this episode reinforced the principal that they also served a dual role as the military arm of the Federation.
The unnamed Romulan commander (played by Joanne Linville) provided a great example of a female commanding officer, in the 1960s no less. If anything, it may have been an episode where Spock was seen as a sex symbol to some; the chemistry between the two was undeniable.
Synopsis: A transporter mishap slips Captain Kirk and his companions into a parallel universe, where the Enterprise serves a barbaric Empire instead of the Federation. This episode spun off several plotlines in Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise.
Why We Love It: This is my all time favorite episode. The brutal discipline. The promiscuity. The sparkly sashes and midriffs. It certainly makes for a very fun version of space travel. The metaphor of mirror Spock’s goatee being synonymous with an evil version of yourself continues to be referenced in pop culture to this day with recent examples like South Park and Community coming to mind.
The idea of an evil alternate version of yourself is compelling. Everything is the same, but wholly different. What really lasted with the episode were Kirk’s words of wisdom to the mirror Spock before his escape home: ‘one person cannot summon the future, but they can change the present.’
The City on the Edge of Forever
Synopsis: After accidentally overdosing on a powerful stimulant, Dr. McCoy becomes unbalanced and disappears through the Guardian of Forever, a newly discovered time portal on a remote planet. Kirk and Spock follow after learning that McCoy somehow changed history. Arriving in the 1930s, the duo meet Edith Keeler, a New York social worker who gives them a place to stay. As the days pass, and McCoy is nowhere to be seen, Kirk finds himself falling in love with Keeler… but Spock discovers that Keeler must die to restore the timeline.
Why We Love It: Every time I think of the madness brought on by McCoy’s accidental overdose of cordrazine I can’t help but smile. Sure, it’s a tragic plot device but I can’t help myself. He truly goes ‘coo coo for cocoa puffs’ from that hypospray. “Killers! Assassins!” What, Bones? Who are these killers? How did you manage to overpower the entire bridge crew, beam down to the planet and nearly destroy the world in less than six minutes? I’m laughing out loud just writing about it.
The episode is so wonderfully layered. It included an anti-Vietnam-war movement metaphor as the subtext. It also depicted the Great Depression in a way that I’ve never seen done on a television show before or since.
However ridiculous the beginning is, it then turns into a marvelous time travel story with a heartbreaking ending. Kirk truly falls in love with Edith, a social worker 300 years his senior and he has to let her die. The dilemma that Kirk faces can only be done properly in the science fiction. Shatner’s performance and grief speak to longevity of this episode and why it is so universally praised.
A few days before his passing, Nimoy shared some of his poetry on Twitter.
A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP
— Leonard Nimoy (@TheRealNimoy) February 23, 2015
As Doctor McCoy said in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan:
“He’s not really dead. As long as we remember him.”
Live long and prosper in our hearts and minds forever, Mr. Nimoy.
What were your favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series? What will you remember most about Leonard Nimoy? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!