Now we find ourselves going back to the series that started it all. In 1966 a series aired that certainly changed pop culture forever. Little did creator Gene Roddenberry know that his creation would gain a life of its own with over a dozen feature films and 800+ episodes across multiple spin-offs. Star Trek would gains such a following that it would be firmly entrenched in the lexicon of humanity in such a way that it has become akin to our own modern mythology. This series had to start somewhere and it’s start wasn’t with Kirk, McCoy and the rest of the crew…in fact, it’s first attempt wasn’t even officially aired until October 04, 1988 a full 22 years since it’s creation. That episode, The Cage.
Captain’s Log, Stardate Undetermined:
The Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike responds to a distress call from Talos IV only to discover a race of beings who can create illusions with their minds. Now captured, Pike (along with a human woman named Vina, his second in command ‘Number One’ and a young Yeoman) must find a way out before they are forced to become part of this alien races menagerie. Eventually, with the help of Vina, Pike and his captured crew members are able to convince the Talosians that they should not be kept as slaves and they are freed. However it is revealed that Vina has been badly deformed by the crash of her ship and is unable to leave with the Enterprise crew as she will not survive. The Talosians create a version of Pike for her to remain with and allow the rest to leave.
Is this a ‘Good’ Episode:
From the start, It is abundantly clear that Captain Pike has his crew’s best interests at heart in every way as he is unwilling to do anything to put them in unnecessary danger, but you also get the feeling that he has been struggling with his own inadequacies as he is considering retiring due to an ‘event’ that took place prior to this episode. The rest of the crew is about as typical as any scifi of it’s time, with a mostly male crew, and even some very strong hints of misogyny, despite the fact that the second in command is a woman, it almost feels as if Roddenberry was fully inspired by one of the biggest scifi films of the time, Forbidden Planet. Much of the same tone and feel can be seen in this making it a very well produced television episode that, sadly, was not seen by many even though it would usher in a fully produced series of it’s own.
The Cage serves as a great prototype of the franchise to come. All of the elements of what makes up the series that launched a franchise are here but, somewhat different and that is not a bad thing. The obvious differences from what was to come is, of course, the majority of the crew itself. Until recently, via Discovery, the fates of Captain Pike, Number One and the rest of the crew has been left relatively unknown. In fact, this episode was in limbo as to whether it could be considered canonical with the rest of the franchise. While only recently this has changed, not only making this episode canon and bringing back several of the characters (and an upcoming new series!), the only character to have originally made it out of this Pilot is that of Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy) with some considerable character changes, including making him a might less ’emotional’.
The episode itself is a fantastic scifi story with a very high production level that would have fit in with any number of classic scifi films of the time. While the pacing is a little slower than we are used to it honestly still holds up to this day. Jeffery Hunter, who plays Pike, really sells his role and it makes me wish we could have seen more of his version of Captain Pike. He is every bit the strong willed and heroic Captain that Kirk would become, but there is a wizened nature to him making us realize that this is certainly not his first adventure and likely will not be his last. Other characters who absolutely would have had more screen time and brought back in later series are Number One (also known as Una) played by Majel Barrett and Dr. Phil Boyce played by John Hoyt. While we do get more of Number One on Discovery, there is no word at the time of this writing about Boyce. My money is on Jeffery Combs taking on that role on the new series Strange New Worlds, but…who knows?
Then we come to Nimoy’s early version of Spock. You will notice that this Spock is a little less stoic and one that has none of the strict emotional controls he will later exhibit.. I find myself fascinated by this version of Spock and really look forward to learning more about him, even though the ‘next time’ we see him some time will have passed. While we know that this is before any of his known back story was firmly established it seems we will be getting more of an explanation for this via the new series as well with Ethan Peck reprising the role.
Overall, this is a tremendous intro to the Star Trek universe. Playing out not unlike that of one of the more scifi episodes of The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, it plays out as a tremendous phycological play over what is real and what is fiction. Hunter does a fantastic job in his role as a captured animal tortured by psychic beings and his supporting cast really rounds out the episode fabulously.
Gleanings and Cool Bits:
- This episode will be revisited in the two part episode The Menagerie so this is not the last we will see of the Talosians.
- We see our very first Orions which we will later learn in the franchse are not quite what they appear.
- Red Shirts killed: 0:0
Thanks for reading the Retro TV Review, I look forward to discussing the rest of the series with you, one episode at a time every Monday, Wednesday and Friday! Next Review: Where No Man Has Gone Before
For more reviews I have a weekly series called Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday and for more retro TV goodness check out the rest of the Retro TV Reviews here.
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Late To The Game 12/1/2021
Special Thanks to Memory Alpha as they are one of the best sources for details on Star Trek information available. Although I have a pretty deep knowledge on the subject, they have proven invaluable as a regular resource.
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