Star Trek The Next Generation began with a passing of the torch, with DeForest Kelley in a memorable cameo role as a now-ancient Bones. Later, in season 6, James Doohan reprised his role as Scotty in the beloved episode ‘Relics’. Sandwiched in between the two episodes was the two-parter ‘Unification’, which holds a special and unique place in fans’ hearts.
While it’s not remembered as the greatest two-parter in Star Trek history, ‘Unification’ brought the peerless Leonard Nimoy’s Spock back to the screen. The title is a double meaning: yes, the plot revolves around Ambassador Spock’s efforts to unite the Vulcans and the Romulans, but it also refers to the unification between two Star Trek series as the TOS star made an appearance alongside the TNG cast.
In the episode, Spock finds himself in the presence of a very different kind of Star Trek captain than he’s used to, Picard, and is also paired up with Data (who, effectively, served as TNG’s own ‘Spock’ being the outsider looking in). It’s the stuff of fan-fiction, a bit like the Star Trek movie Generations which would later unite Picard and Kirk. And, it was all Leonard Nimoy’s idea from the start. “I went to the producers at Next Generation with the idea that we could do a crossover,” the actor explained to StarTrek.com.
Nimoy’s intention was to “do an appearance on The Next Generation that would, in a sense, be a connection to the Star Trek films that we were making. They wrote a script which I thought served that purpose. I went and gladly did it. And yes, it was my idea. I went to them with the idea, and we did it,” he concluded.
Unification ended up being a big success, and a lot of fun. Nimoy fits in seamlessly with Stewart and The Next Generation cast, and it’s a delight to see the interaction between the characters (especially because those types of cameos and crossovers were so rare in Star Trek).
In fact, because of the prospect of seeing Spock, Picard, and Data all in the same adventure, the episode debuted to an audience of over 25 million in the US. That’s a staggering number, inconceivable today with the proliferation of streaming.
Unsurprisingly, given the astonishing viewing figures, Nimoy’s plan also worked. Part of the reason behind the relative box office failure of Star Trek V was put down to TNG having drawn Star Trek fans’ attention, leading to a lack of interest in the continuing adventures of the TOS crew on the big screen. But, with Nimoy’s role in ‘Unification’ effectively serving as an advert for Star Trek VI the TOS crew’s final movie was a much bigger success, raking in over $30 million more on a smaller budget.
Nimoy, and ‘Unification’ reminded fans that the original Star Trek characters were just as entertaining to watch as their successors on TNG, even if the crew of the USS Enterprise-D overshadowed them once the show hit its stride from season 3 onward, becoming one of the best TV series of all time.
‘Unification’ ended up being one of the final times Nimoy played Spock, and after Star Trek VI he only returned to the franchise in the alternate Star Trek timeline created in the JJ Abrams films, refusing a role in Generations. In the grand scheme of things, though, we’d argue that this was a good decision. Nimoy wanted to preserve the sanctity of Star Trek VI’s ending which, like ‘All Good Things…’, was a near-perfect send-off to the cast.
For more Star Trek fun, read our guide on the best way to watch the Star Trek movies in order, or see our picks for the best Star Trek starships. Alternatively, you can see why Jonathan Frakes wants one episode of TNG banned, and learn about Nimoy’s favorite TOS episode.