Year: 2254 (11 years before Kirk takes command of the Enterprise)
Written by: Gene Roddenberry
Directed by: Robert Butler
This is where it all started. For those who don’t know, “The Cage” was the original pilot submitted to NBC for Star Trek. Per Memory Alpha, the episode is production number 6149-01 and even though it was submitted as the original pilot, it didn’t air for the first time until October 4th, 1988.
In the original pitch to NBA, the Enterprise was captained by Christopher Pike played by Jeffrey Hunter with Roddenberry’s wife, Majel Barrett, as the First Officer and Spock, looking and acting quite different, as the Second Officer, of sorts. Now, many have seen parts of this episode cut into The Original Series episodes “The Menagerie, Part 1” and “The Menagerie, Part 2” which aired as episodes 15 and 16 in Season 1 back in November of 1966. Later, the episode was shown in full, which was the version I watched most of my life as a recorded VHS from a TV airing. However, the episode was part of the Blu-Ray release back in 2009 and included a special “Uncut” version with some scenes with Roddenberry and scenes in black and white added in. Now, this special was recorded in the 1980’s prior to TNG airing but the Blu-Ray was the firs time I saw this episode.
Now let’s get to the review.
First, I love Hunter. I thought his Captain Pike was great and he was well suited for Trek. It’s sad that it didn’t work out in any capacity because he would have made a great recurring character. I also felt that Barrett did a solid job. She was portrayed as intelligent but limited with emotions. I think they could have fleshed out her character over time and having a female in such a high level in the 1960’s was a big deal, so removing her is disappointing. Nimoy’s Spock of “The Cage” is a totally different incarnation. Aside from the obvious physical differences like the exaggerated eyebrows, he doesn’t act all that different from the humans. He laughs, smiles, gets angry and frustrated, all human traits and certainly not traits beholden of a Vulcan. The Spock we got later is definitely a more interesting and compelling character. The final main character is Susan Oliver as Vina. This character fits the more stereotypical female character of the time. She was the damsel in distress and Pike had to rescue her. Now, there’s more to it than that but her portrayal doesn’t do much to further female participation.
The story is a lot of fun. We meet intimidating, powerful aliens right off the bat in the first episode. As noted by Vina, they could easily destroy the Enterprise simply by making a crew member think they are pressing the right controls but are instead setting the self-destruct. It’s fantastic sci-fi and a great way to introduce many of the concepts the franchise later fleshed out like warp drive, phasers, transporters, and the communicator. All of the iconic Trek technologies are present even if they look a little different or are named a little different. It made me smile that the phaser was just called a laser and that warp drive was some kind of time warp.
One aspect I did not care for was how the female characters Number One and J.M. Colt were handled after they were taken captive by the Talosians. Immediately, The Keeper makes note that Number One has fantasies about Captain Pike which I felt undermined her character significantly, especially in the first episode. Colt then makes a comment toward the end eluding to being with the Captain in a romantic capacity. Again, this undermines a new female character. Basically, there are three females with lines in this episode and all three of them are portrayed in having some sexual desire to be with the Captain.
Overall, it’s a solid episode with great casting for the main members. It’s a shame that it wasn’t what the network wanted. We’ve been told both that the network executives wanted a more Western style show, which we did end up getting, and that they wanted more color to pop since 1966 was the first year all three major networks aired 100% in color. Whatever the reason, the franchise lost something without Pike and Barrett’s Number One but we obviously gained incredible amounts with the addition of the characters and actors we got in Kirk, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov, just to name a few. And, with the glass half full, we did get Barrett multiple times over as Nurse Chaple, the computer voice, and Lwaxana Troi.