The Spock that we see in “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” isn’t quite there yet. In the former, he’s essentially a human crewmember with alien features and while he’s a bit closer in “Where No Man…”, there’s still a sizeable gap between Nimoy and the character. It’s in “The Corbomite Maneuver” where we first see the Spock as the audience would get to know (and fall in love with, much to the chagrin of William Shatner and his agent).
“The Corbomite Maneuver” was the first regular episode of Star Trek produced and Nimoy was uncertain about how he should approach a key early moment in the script — the first appearance of the massive alien starship Fesarius. The line is simple enough on paper; it’s a single word. However, the script didn’t give any real direction for the line and Nimoy asked director Joseph Sargent for his input. Sargent’s brainstorm: everyone else would be stunned at what they were seeing, speechless at first; Spock would react with cool, scientific detachment at the event, uttering what would become that most famous of Spockisms for the very first time: “Fascinating.”
Nimoy credits Sargent’s direction for helping him crack the character and in I Am Spock, he writes “What came out wasn’t Leonard Nimoy’s voice, but Spock’s. I began to seriously understand where Spock was coming from.”
Nimoy’s performance would refine itself over the first dozen episodes produced, informing the character and giving writers and directors ample fodder. It’s in the production of “The Enemy Within” where the Vulcan nerve pinch first comes into play. Matheson’s original screenplay said that Spock would punch the evil Kirk with a haymaker, rendering him unconscious. Nimoy felt that this went against the restraint that had become a trademark of the Vulcan personality and brought his concern to Shatner, who agreed. After all, with Kirk’s more ego-driven base half displaying a bestial side, Spock doing something elegant and minimal would serve the script’s themes better while letting the actors contrast one another. They went back and forth for a bit between camera setups, trying versions of karate chops and the like before they found exactly what they were looking for.
Right before filming of the fight scene began, Nimoy and Shatner demonstrated what they’d come up with to drector Leon Penn. Penn loved it, the producers thought it was great and soon Star Trek teleplays would feature the abbreviation “FSNP” to refer to the Famous Spock Nerve Pinch.
(Of course, “The Enemy Within” also has an uncomfortable coda that features Spock implying that Janice Rand would enjoy being…er… seduced by Kirk’s brutal half, so, you know. They were still working on things.)
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