When I was at school I became a member of the Leonard Nimoy Fan Club, receiving, amongst other things, a signed photograph of the actor – now sadly long gone – Star Trek was a defining moment for a generation, in my case, I’d got wind of it some time before it was actually broadcast in the U.K via a “Gold Key” comic I had purchased from the shop next to the school I went to, and I was beside myself with excitement.
Viewed retrospectively, the idea of an alien character as a regular cast member in a sci-fi series, and not as an enemy or something to be shot at, was a very daring concept for the time, the mid-60’s – although earlier films like “Forbidden Planet” had set the stage a decade previously by placing the robot “Robbie” at the helm of the C-57D at the end of the film, offering a tantalising impression that a crew member need not necessarily be human.
Within the science fiction literary universe, Spock was anticipated to a large extent in the “Adventures of Northwest Smith”, featuring the seminal short story “Shambleau” by C.L Moore, first published in 1933 in “Weird Tales” – Northwest Smith, an earthman, has a humanoid alien “sidekick” who is actually less of a sidekick or foil, than an equal and a key element in the story – prior to that the notion of a double act can be traced back to Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”, in Sancho Panza, and even before that to the Babylonian epic of “Gilgamesh & Enkiddu”.
Star Treks’ creator, Gene Roddenberry has often been quoted as saying that Star Trek was inspired by the Horatio Hornblower stories of adventures on the high seas – harking back to an era of romantic fiction – in the same way, I think that Spocks character owes a great deal to Rudyard Kiplings “Kim”, & although “Kim” is just an English boy naturalised in India, there is the sense of being of mixed heritage, part human & part Vulcan in the case of Mr Spock, and where Mr Spock becomes an “in-point” for the audience in terms of wrestling with the issues of “otherness” & the alien.
Despite being a story set in the “25th Century”, a large part of the appeal of Star Trek lay in this romantic undercurrent, and again the ground was prepared for this by “Forbidden Planet”, with its’ obvious but clever lifting of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.
There’s no doubt that the character of Spock as portrayed by Leonard Nimoy is a huge cultural influence on many levels, in a way that hasn’t really been matched by any other actor in a similar role since.