Production Order #1
Airing Order #80
Directed by Robert Butler
Written by Gene Roddenberry
Two days before the premiere of Season 4 of Doctor Who, another slightly more famous sci-fi show premiered, this time in the US. Perhaps the original cult show, it lasted only 3 seasons before being cancelled, revived only due to the popularity of its reruns. In the 50+ years since, the series has spawned a total of 6 (soon to be 7) TV series and 13 films. Like Doctor Who, the series has largely existed as one giant continuity in that span and a revival which brought the series to new levels of fame and a polarizing reception from the fans of the classic era.
This series, famously developed by Gene Roddenberry (who had previously created The Lieutenant) is of course Star Trek and it has long been one of my biggest pop culture shames to have not seen. Outside of The Wrath of Khan, the first two films of NuTrek, and assorted tiny bits of various shows/films (I have also seen the Roddenberry written Pretty Maids All in a Row but th, I can safely say I am coming in blind. Well “blind” may be an exaggeration because the amount of pop culture osmosis for the franchise is extensive and I doubt there is any series I know more about despite having never seen more than five minutes of any episode than Star Trek: The Original Series. Still, I’d appreciate a minimum of spoilers (or at least clearly marked as such) here for what comes ahead (even though I know it is not nearly the serialized show Doctor Who is) even with the episodes being so old. Also forgive me for repeating plenty of what I’m sure is common knowledge to Trekkies (a term which like Whovian I will hopefully never use again) but deserves repeating for posterity and for seemingly common knowledge I have forgotten.
Pitched as “Wagon Train to the stars”, Gene Roddenberry had extensive experience writing for another Western, 27 episodes written for Have Gun – Will Travel for which he had also won a Writer’s Guild Award for. The series though almost never happened since the first pilot was rejected for being “too cerebral” and even before then was rejected by a number of other studios before being picked up by Desilu Productions (by that point run solely by Lucille Ball). It was expensive and ambitious especially for an independent studio costing over half a million dollars and lacking enough of the action expected out of it. This episode also looked much different then what the series would be known for with only Spock (as played by the late Leonard Nimoy) and an unrelated to her later role character played by Majel Barrett being a part of both casts. Thankfully for everyone involved, NBC ordered a second pilot (see below) and the rest is history. “The Cage” would go unseen in full until 1988 though it was heavily worked into the two-part story “The Menagerie” because they sure as hell weren’t going to waste all this footage they shot.
The title sequence to the show is bizarre as heck with a cheerful tune seemingly out of a comedy film of the era and a frankly ugly looking logo. It’s a petty niggle to be sure especially since the far more recognizable intro is still to come but it seems almost apt for this episode. The decision to repeat this theme in the episode just making the choice seem even more stark. The quality of music in general is variable but all very “big” and overblown.
The episode stars Jeffrey Hunter (The Searchers) as an angry Captain Pike who is considering retirement and seems a bit dim. At the least he does seem to recognize the fact that it is all a dream quickly but he always just seems to have a look of being completely lost on his face. Nimoy is far more animated as Spock then he would be in the future and I liked that they don’t explain who Spock is right away. A funny looking guy with weird ears and eyebrows yet he’s treated exactly the same as everyone else. He’s still easily the most interesting character and his decision to abandon three people for the safety of the rest of the crew the moment he takes power offers the best character development of the episode which they don’t need to explicitly state.
In a fairly standard plot for sci-fi, the crew of the Enterprise receive a distress call from a planet where a ship had crashed years ago. They beam down to discover the survivors are a bunch of old men and a token young blonde woman born on the island only for it to be revealed as a trap. Everybody’s dead (even Captain Hollister) and it’s all an illusion. The aliens are trying to establish a slave race who can man the machines they have long since forgotten how to use and hope that Pike and said blonde woman (or really any woman, they aren’t picky) can be the metaphorical Adam and Eve. I know this is a tired joke, but why is the rescue party made up of many of the most important people on the ship? Seems a bit risky, doesn’t it? This is only confirmed when the ship loses their captain in a matter of minutes forcing an even riskier rescue mission and right after they are set to send their second in command, she gets taken too.
I quite like the transporter effect they have going with enough to differentiate it from the Tardis effect on Doctor Who. I know the show in general has a reputation for its effects having not aged well but anyone who says that should really try watching Doctor Who some time. It left me quite impressed for the era. The creature effects on the bird and gorilla things aren’t great, and the chroma key is incredibly obvious but the villains (more on that later) with brains so big they have their own asses are a surprisingly good visual take on a tired trope. Like all villains with big brains, they can communicate via telepathy but the effect of their vein pulsating as they do is a quality addition. There is also a gorgeous looking shot of a (faked) alien world and I’ll go so far as to say that this would visually hold up against sci-fi films of this pre-2001: A Space Odyssey era. Then again, the versions on Netflix are remastered, so who knows what to think anymore besides “stop editing special effects in older shows/movies people”.
There is a far more scientific approach to problems (even if the jumps in logic are a bit cheap) and the examination of the very nature of reality and the mind is ahead of its time and more interesting than any of the space stuff. It’s a shame that the show just sort of abandons this later on but at least it replaces it with a heck of an ending. It’s a downer ending as the race is doomed to extinction, unwilling to condemn the rest of the universe to its fate but losing its last hope at saving itself due to how awful humanity is. They may have been trying to establish a slave race, but they genuinely believed that if they gave the humans everything they could ever want, why would they want anything anymore. They could help humanity along to being the best versions of themselves while also rebuilding the civilization. Instead, freedom is more important to humans than actual happiness in a utopian world. The woman who seemed questionably real before is left in an old mangled body (the best the aliens could do to save her), living out illusions of youth with a fake Captain Pike on a dying world. It’s a bleak way to end the episode, though they make sure to cut back to the ship for a bunch of jokes to close things out because this is a pilot after all and you want people to come back, and I’m happy the episode didn’t come down too firmly on one side or the other. It’s up to the viewer to decide what side is in the right or if this was just a case of both/neither. It’s almost an anti-Twilight Zone episode twist, specifically “People Are Alike All Over”.
The whole pilot gave me flashbacks to the Firefly situation, another space western with a redone pilot after an original extra-long episode which was rejected for not having enough action. It’s good to know nothing has changed in 30 something years but also I’m left wondering why exactly it was rejected because it is an enjoyable, well-done 60’s sci-fi movie that touched on a variety of interesting themes. Well aside from casting issues that is because aside from Pike, Spock, and Number One, no one really seems to have a character and Spock is the only one who actually has an interesting one. Pike would be far more at home in a modern broody show and while I’m curious to see what might have been, I can’t say I bemoan his loss.
– Yes, I know the AVC already did this but I thought it would make a nice contrast with Doctor Who both in my knowledge/exposure to the franchises and in the ways they have handled their long runs.
– No, Doctor Who coverage is not going away and if I can’t handle the workload, that will remain the first priority.
– It was either this or Blake’s 7 (since I wanted a show for this series I hadn’t seen which sadly eliminated Red Dwarf) and it just felt wrong to tackle that first considering its reputation in many circles for being awful. I also considered Danger Man and Kolchak: The Night Stalker but the ease of acquiring Star Trek episodes won out.
– The Starfleet uniforms looks like they were purchased off the rack somewhere and they seem to have the most lax dress code of any military unit in existence. Some have shirts who are tucked in, others who seem to have done so partially, and other yet who didn’t even yet.
– “Can’t get used to having a woman on the bridge”. It’s a good as time as any to air that Roddenberry’s idea of a utopian future doesn’t exactly hold up all that well in what it has to say for women (since it is implied that this is a recent change to even allow them in such a role) and diversity (though the series proper improved this somewhat with the casting of George Takei and Nichelle Nichols). Then again, a woman is portrayed as the second most experienced officer and especially considering the era of the show, I’ll take all this as ahead of its time.
– Also ahead of its time, an unchallenged rebuke of the concept of hell as a fable.
– Thank you for explicitly pointing out the meaning of this whole episode Captain Pike. Thank you for also getting over your entire wanting to retire thing in less time than it took you to give that whole speech the first time…
– We get a look at the original green-skinned alien woman this episode
– We also get a look at the original flip phone which is almost as funny as seeing a rapper pull one out on stage in 2017 (RTJ was a really fun show but somehow that situation stood out on the night).
– “ADAM as in All ship’s Doctors Are dirty old Men” would be a lot funnier if it didn’t abuse the abbreviation system quite so much.
– No one dying in a sci-fi episode is to be commended as even the frequently intellectual aspiring Doctor Who was very fond of killing people once. “Just this once, everybody lives!”
– The wikia site for Star Trek is far less readable and more of a jumble than the Doctor Who one. I thought we had banished white font and had realized the appeal of a clean format by now. Someone also needs to inform them about the advantage of not using giant blocks of text and using more paragraphs.
“Where No Man Has Gone Before”
Production Order #2
Airing Order #3
Directed by James Goldstone
Written by Samuel A. Peeples
For the redone pilot, most of the show has been recast but it still isn’t completely full of all the recognizable mainstays. While William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk in a role originally offered to Jack Lord of Hawaii Five-O and Lloyd Bridges of Airplane), James Dooham (Montgomery Scott), George Takei (Sulu), and Lieutenant Leslie (Eddie Paskey in what I’m assured is a fairly regular role) have joined a returning Nimoy, there’s still a number of big names (Uhura, Bones, and Chekov all spring to mind) who have not. Paul Fix replaces John Hoyt (who seemed to be set up as a mentor to Pike) as the doctor and Andrea Dromm replaced Laurel Goodwin as the yeoman but they wouldn’t make it to series.
We also get a new, superior intro, complete with the famous “Captain’s log, stardate…” which gives the series an almost Twilight Zone like feel. Somewhat surprising to me, is that the iconic title sequence doesn’t open the show and that it still maintains the cartoonish music that comes after the famous opening notes. The show also continues with some very big music when the action starts up which always make me laugh more than trying to convince me it is epic (this is a far too common problem).
Spock now gets maybe a line or two before we are told that he is an alien with a human ancestor which would annoy me more considering how I praised the opposite last time, but it also very quickly established this is a new, emotionless Spock. Also, that’s not how one would describe their mother so even I in my limited Star Trek knowledge can smell a retcon in the air. The episode as a whole is filled with much more exposition as we get to know everyone. On the one hand, it is nice to actually have characters instead of just people standing around saying stuff, but it’s the least elegant way to go about it.
The script was chosen for second pilot for its lack of “an intergalactic pimp” and for being an interesting plot though it would still wind up being the third episode to make it to air. It is certainly an easy to sell and recognizable premise. Once again we have the crew of the Enterprise stumbling upon a signal, this time from the SS Valiant which has suffered a catastrophic failure 200 years ago and we are left with a mystery of how exactly that happened, albeit a mystery that is quite easy to figure out.
After last episode’s questionable approach to evolution (you can’t evolve to be smarter by spending your time thinking a lot), this time it is ESP being something humans are capable of to an extent that shows up. This becomes the crux of the plot as after heading through a barrier, the most ESP sensitive (it seems the show turned into a precursor to Star Wars and no one noticed) are knocked out with one in particular, Gary Mitchell, is given evil eyes, strange mental powers, and an overall not at all subtle evilness. We all know it was going to turn them evil, we don’t need the music hammering that point in. At least almost every character (and the only one who doesn’t turns eventually too) is able to figure this out almost instantly so we aren’t subjected to an episode’s worth of tiresome guessing and convincing.
Mitchell’s powers start increasing exponentially, and once again it is up to Spock to suggest the cold, logical response of killing him. It’s still the most interesting character trait albeit a bit less so when it is foregrounded and harped over instead of just a background trait. His conflict with Kirk and his ability to feel adds an interesting dynamic and moral dilemma. Is murder justified if it will save the lives of everyone else? Does the fact that he’s a longtime friend mean anything? Eventually, Kirk tries to kill Mitchell but it is too late and he decides to take his fellow turned with him onto a deserted planet and make it in his image. The show is already pulling from that creating worlds (though this one is not an illusion) and Adam and Eve well early and often but this time there is no living happily ever after between said couple.
After managing not to kill anyone before, the show has severely course corrected, killing twelve people as if to say “yes we can do action too!”. The final fist fight is a hilarious amalgamation of every stereotype of the fight scenes on the show. We get plenty of sad karate chops and slow punches where you can practically hear each move called out beforehand. It makes for a more “exciting” conclusion, but at the expense of the quality and intellectual value. Kirk is a far more engaging presence than Pike who had all the appeal of a brick wall and his pairing with Spock elevates the material they are given. It’s may actually be a superior pilot in the way it establishes the cast and the cast is certainly superior, but as an episode it just doesn’t hold together as well and falls back on far more stereotypes. If “The Cage” was almost American Doctor Who mixed with The Twilight Zone, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is more traditional 60’s sci-fi. There’s nothing wrong with that and it is very much in my comfort zone, it just feels less special.
– I will be doing these two at a time (at least at the start) because I’d ideally like to finish the series this year, not for any logical reason.
– Gary Lockwood, who plays Mitchell, had been the star of Roddenberry’s previous series, “The Lieutenant”
– The new CGI in this episode is about as subtle and appealing as splicing in random bit of some video game footage.
– The matte work on the other hand looks pretty great.
– The 3D chess looks less like a game and more like a sculpture.
– Mitchell digs Kirk a grave which is the ultimate threat but considering his powers, he really should have been able to kill Kirk instantaneously. The whole plot really was a bunch of Bond moments where Kirk hesitates just too long or Mitchell does to prolong it.
– I like any show that is actually willing to show it’s lead character sweaty, uniform torn up, and clearly worn down from a fight.
Next Up: On Monday we return to Doctor Who for “The Underwater Menace” but next up for Star Trek are the episodes “The Corbomite Maneuver” and “Mudd’s Women” as I will be going through the show by production order.