Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 0 (The Cage)

Most Star Trek fans know that the original series had two pilots.  When Gene Roddenberry produced The Cage, NBC rejected it.  What the network eventually got was the version with Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  Before Captain James T. Kirk was Captain Christopher Pike.

The Cage starts with Pike considering retirement.  It’s not that being a captain is boring.  Quite the opposite.  He’s still licking his wounds from a mission where he lost several crewmembers.  That’s part of the job, but it doesn’t make it easy.

Before Pike can seriously consider it, The Enterprise gets a distress call from Talos IV.  It appears that a scientific expedition had been missing for almost two decades and crashed on the planet.  Most of the people are men.  The only notable exception is a young woman named Vina, who the men claim was born just as the ship landed.  Her beauty allows Pike to be taken in long enough to be captured by the native Talosians.

The entire crash site was an illusion projected by the Talosians for the purpose of capturing a male human.  Why?  Talosian society destroyed the surface of the planet.  They need a race of slaves to rebuild.  The idea is to use Pike and Vina to breed that slave race.

The one big problem is breaking Pike.  He seems to be resistant to all forms of persuasion and punishment.  Even though Vina is a real woman, she can be made to look any way Pike might desire.  They even allow two women from the Enterprise to beam down for Pike to choose from.  Even the threat of hell doesn’t seem to make Pike any more compliant.  It isn’t until the Talosians go through the Enterprise library that they realize humans aren’t suitable for their needs.  They allow the crew to leave, knowing that the Talosian race is ultimately doomed.

Even when I first saw the episode, it seems odd that they would only take one male from the landing party, especially considering that there were several to chose from.  You can’t really get a good breeding population with just one couple.  Even with three women, inbreeding would become a problem.  They actually have an entire ship to get people from.  (Pike eve gives the exact number of lives he’s responsible for: 203.)

My only thought is that the Talosians may have wanted to study humans before trying any long-term commitment.  It wasn’t stated that they were ignoring the ship.  Their main focus was simply trying to figure out how Pike worked.  Once they got him compliant the rest of the crew would have been easier.

It’s odd to think of what might have become of Star Trek if this pilot had been used.  Spock would be the only character retained and would become a lot less emotional.  (He can be seen smiling in this episode.)  The first officer was female.  Pike only called her Number One and she was played by none other than Majel Barrett.  From what I’ve read, that was just a little too progressive for NBC, who specifically told Roddenberry to get rid of the guy with the pointy ears.

The reworked series went on to air 79 episodes.  That was apparently enough to get it into syndication.  There’s no way to tell if NBC made the right call ordering a new pilot.  The original cast may or may not have done better.  Even with the changes, NBC moved the show around enough to eventually kill it.  Still, assuming it had been the pilot, what would it have been like to have a female first officer that early in the show?  During the run of the original series, Uhura is never shown taking command of the ship.  It wouldn’t be until the Next Generation that a woman would be in the captain’s chair.  (For that matter, what would the spin-off series even looked like?)

I enjoyed watching The Original Series when I was younger.  It wasn’t until years later that I would learn a lot of what went on behind the scenes.  Roddenberry would go on to marry Majel Barrett.  Apparently the two were having an affair at the time.  There are a few behind-the-scenes specials that I’ve seen that are interesting and offer some insight to the show.  (Two that come to mind are The Truth Is in the Stars and Chaos on the Bridge.)

Because of the magic of The Internet, I now have the opportunity to watch The Original series once again.  Thanks to Netflix, I now have access to Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise as well as The Animated Series.  I may wait a while to start watching Discovery, as I can only get that through All Access right now.  Maybe I’ll have some other option in the near future.

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