Star Trek: TOS The Best Episodes

“Space, The final Frontier.  These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.  It’s five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”

The Menagerie, Part I

Season 1, Episode 11

Original air date:  November 17, 1966

Stardate:  3012.4

Plot Summary:

Kirk, McCoy and Spock materialize on Star Base 11.  Spock says he received a message from Captain Christopher Pike, his old commander.  Commodore Mendez tells them that there was no signal and any message from Captain Pike would be impossible.  Showing them to Capt. Pike’s room, they see that he is totally incapacitated in a wheel chair like device from which only his horribly scarred head is visible.  He uses a connection to his fully functioning brain to move the chair and operate a light through which he can answer yes or no questions.  One ding for yes and two dings for no – sorry wrong series with a guy helpless in a wheel chair- one light and beep for yes and two for no.  As Kirk and Mendez go back and forth about whether or not Spock lied about the message, Mr. Spock infiltrates the Star Base computer center and sends fake orders to the Enterprise, incapacitating two technicians along the way.  Beaming back aboard the Enterprise, Spock takes control of the vessel and puts in on course to Talos IV, a planet whose visitation is banned by Star Fleet with a penalty of death for defiance.  Kirk and Mendez make chase in a shuttle craft even as its limited range puts them in danger of running out of life support if they don’t turn back – which they do not.  McCoy is growing suspicious and Spock apparently worried about the lives of Kirk and Mendez shocks everyone.  He orders the shuttle put in tow and the Captain and Commodore beamed aboard.  He then turns himself into McCoy, as the most senior officer available, for the crime of Mutiny.

Once on board, Kirk discovers the Enterprise’s computer has locked them into their current heading and only Spock can keep them from reaching Talos IV.  At a preliminary Court Martial hearing, Spock declares himself guilty and asks they move on to a full Court Martial trial.  There being only two bridge officers on board they tell him they cannot comply – but Spock points out that Captain Pike is of rank and is still on active duty.  They arrange the trial, and through some rhetorical trickery Spock is able to present as evidence perfectly rendered video of his mission to Talos IV with Captain Pike thirteen years earlier when he was a science officer on the Enterprise.  The video, which is far beyond the quality of the records Star Fleet keeps – almost of television quality with swipes and zoom ins and everything DesiLu had to offer – is assumed a fake by Commodore Mendez.  Captain Pike asserts that it’s all a real record of that past mission.

In the video, the Enterprise responds to a distress signal on Talos IV, Captain Pike is originally going to ignore it without proof of survivors.  He is obviously fatigued by a horrible incident during their last mission where he lost crew members, he even confides in the ship’s doctor that he is contemplating leaving star fleet.  When survivors are confirmed, Pike directs the Enterprise to Talos IV where the landing party find a group of old men and one young woman as survivors.  The woman we are told was born on their research ship right before the crash, making her about 18 years old, and her parents were both killed in the incident.  As they make preparations to bring the survivors on board the doctor notes that the survivors all seem almost too healthy.  The young woman, Vina, offers to show Pike how they are so healthy. She takes him to a cliff face where she then disappears along with the rest of the “survivors.”  Three creatures with small bodies and huge, bald, veiny heads come out of a door in the rocks and render Pike unconscious taking him below.  His crew responds but they can’t get through the door of the cave.

Back in the hearing room, Uhura announces that the Enterprise has been receiving signals from Talos IV in violation of Star Fleet orders.  Star Fleet puts the Commodore in direct charge of the Enterprise and he indicates that Kirk’s career may now also be in jeopardy as everything that happens on a star ship is ultimately the responsibility of it’s Captain.  Mendez is insistent they no longer view these videos from Talos IV, after the Commodore leaves the room Spock tells Kirk that his career as well as Pike’s life depend upon seeing the rest of these transmissions.  End of Part I.

Known to Fans As: 

Recycled Pilot that actually made a great episode.

Notable Guest Stars: 

See Part II

Continuity Issues:

When confronted with the “singing” plants on Talos IV, Spock smiles.

Vulcan Nerve Pinches: Two, both computer techs are incapacitated this way.

Damn it Jim: None

Kirk’s Shirt Off:  No

Aged the Best:

Lots of TV shows have had to be creative over the years to save money, either just in general or because they want to save the budget for big CGI dragon attacks.  Bottle episodes, the old sitcom flashbacks, dream sequences that use past footage etc.  This was a fantastic way to use old footage, save money, but come up with an entirely new story.  Roddenberry had a lot of flaws but he was a creative genius.

Aged the Worst:

I’d like to see, in a society as advanced and progressive as The Federation, some options for Captain Pike beyond living like that for another forty or fifty years.  Some kind of right to die ability – because that looks terrible.

Also, Vina is supposed to be 18 and Pike about 40 – the gawking at her is not a great look.  It wouldn’t have been hard to say she was 25, 28?  They crashed when she was 10? I have a daughter that’s 18 for f*c^s sake……………….

Overall Grade: 

A -, see Part II for explanation

The Menagerie, Part II

Season 1, Episode 12

Original air date:  November 24, 1966

Stardate:  3013.1

Plot Summary:

Back in the court martial, the view screen once again shows what happened thirteen years before.  Pike’s senior officers try to come up with a plan to rescue him, they decide to bring down a more powerful weapon to blast through the door.  Meanwhile the Talosians using telepathy talk to Pike about him being perfect for their experiments.  Pike tries to inquire about them, probing for a weakness when he is suddenly on the planet from two weeks before where he and his crew were attacked.  Vina is there in roughly middle ages clothing and they are both attacked by a giant Viking/ Barbarian man of immense strength.  Pike wants to refuse to play along, but Vina tells him the pain the attacker inflicts will feel real.  Pike eventually manages to kill the attacker and the simulation ends.

Back in the hearing room, Spock reveals that the Talosians want Pike back and they need to watch the rest to understand.

On Talos IV, Vina tries to seduce Pike, but he again doesn’t want to play along while the crew uses a giant laser gun and some horrible animation to break through to Pike’s prison.  The Keeper, the head of the Talosians, comes to speak to Pike again and gives him food.  Pike figures out they simply want him as breeding stock with Vina to create a race of slaves that can reclaim the surface of the planet as the Talosians have spent so much time creating dreams with their mental powers they let the planet die and forgot how their machinery even works.  The Keeper gives Pike pain and horrible visions to show him what will happen if he doesn’t comply.  Momentarily when Pike gets very angry and charges the glass that makes up the front of his cage, The Keeper is startled.  Pike starts to think he may have found the weakness he can use to overcome them.  Just then he is transported to picnic with Vina, on earth with Pike’s horse he mentioned to the Doctor earlier, standing there ready for a sugar cube that Pike finds in his pocket.  He asks Vina about blocking the Talosian’s power and she admits that strong, primitive emotions like hate can block them out but only for a short time period, too short to matter.  Pike is then shown to be the owner of the palace of an Orion Trader – another possible alternative to being in Starfleet he mentioned to the Doctor in Part I.  Vina is a green-skinned Orion slave girl, doing her best to bump up against the edge of 1966 broadcast standards.  Pike is strongly attracted to Vina and runs out to try and avoid his impulses, in a cave Vina walks back up to Pike and it seems like they’re going to wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  Back on the Enterprise, Number One, Spock and four other crew ready to beam down into the chamber under the hill where Pike was taken.  But only Number One and an unnamed, female Yeoman dematerialize.  When they materialize in the cave with Pike and Vina, Vina is angry with the Talosians as “she almost had him.”  The Keeper tells Pike he may want to stay if he has more choices of companionship.  The lasers the two women carry show empty even as Number One insists they were charged right before beaming down.  As all four of them fall asleep, a small door opens in the cage and The Keeper tries to reach in and grab the weapons.  Pike notices, and pulls The Keeper into the cage and starts to choke him, The Keeper makes himself look like a monster but Pike doesn’t stop, The Keeper then threatens to destroy the Enterprise, and Pike stops choking him but has Number One keep hold of him figuring out that the only reason The Keeper would want the weapons is if they actually worked.  Pike fires at the cage and while it appears the wall is still there, he tells The Keeper he knows the laser worked, the illusion is then ended and the hole is apparent.  They all escape to the surface with The Keeper.  Once on the surface The Keeper reveals this was all part of the plan, that Pike must start using the flora and fauna they’ve collected under the surface to begin remaking Talos IV.  Rather than remain as slaves, Pike has Number One start overloading a laser – as he would rather, they all die than be slaves. Just then two more Talosians appear and transmit their finding about humans to The Keeper and Number One cancels the self-destruct.  The Keeper says he now knows humans can’t handle captivity and they are all free to go.  Pike asks for an apology and The Keeper tells him they are condemned to death without his labor and that should show thanks enough.  Pike offers assistance from the interstellar community but the Talosians are afraid if other species get ahold of their advanced mental abilities, they will destroy their societies the way the Talosians destroyed theirs.  Pike asks Vina to accompany them and that’s where we get the big reveal.  Number One did mention in passing earlier that the manifest of the ship she crashed on had her listed as an adult 18 years earlier and sure enough she’s an older woman, but not just older she was also severely injured in the crash and while the Talosians tried their best to “put her back together” they didn’t know what human’s looked like.  She is horribly scarred, hunchbacked and has trouble walking without pain.  She wants to stay behind where The Keeper promises she will feel young and beautiful and pain free.

Back at the court martial as the Enterprise arrives in orbit over Talos IV, The Keeper speaks to Captain Kirk.  Commodore Mendez disappears, having never even been on the shuttle with Kirk in the first place.  As Spock communicated to the Talosians that Kirk would do everything to try and get his ship back, they concocted the Court Martial to distract him.  Kirk asks Spock why he didn’t just come to him and ask – Spock conveys that he couldn’t put Kirk in danger of the death penalty for visiting Talos IV.  A message from Commodore Mendez, having been on Star Base 11 the whole time, tells Kirk that the restriction against visiting Talos IV was lifted for this one time as they have also gotten transmissions from Talos about what they are doing for Captain Pike.  Kirk asks Pike if he wants to go to the planet, Pike signals yes, and Spock takes Pike to the transporter room. Kirk sees Pike on the view screen at the behest of The Keeper, walking hand in hand with Vina to their new life together free of their physical prisons.  The Keeper tells Kirk, “he has his fantasy, and you have your reality, may you both be happy in them.”

Known to Fans As: 

Recycled Pilot that actually made one great episode and one okay episode.

Notable Guest Stars: 

jhunter

Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike. Best known for playing Jesus in King of Kings and Martin Pawley in The Searchers Hunter’s career went downhill after the original Pilot for Star Trek wasn’t picked up and he ended up making Westerns in Europe much like the fictional Rick Dalton.  Hunter died tragically from a stroke that caused a bad fall at the age of only 42.

MThrone

Malachi Throne as Commodore Jose Mendez.  Throne had a long career as a character actor and voice over artist, including a guest spot on TNG as Romulan Senator Pardek. My personal favorite role of his, was as God on Animaniacs. For those keeping track that’s Jesus and God back to back.  He passed away in 2013 at the age of 84 from lung cancer.

Susan oliver

Susan Oliver as Vina.  Starting out in theater and then theatrical productions staged for television, Oliver was another Trek guest star with a long career in guest roles on various well-known TV shows and movies.  Her biggest movie role was as Jerry Lewis’s complicated love interest in The Disorderly Orderly although she did get nominated for an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress playing Neta “Snookie” Snook in the Made for TV movie, Amelia Earhart.  Oliver was a licensed pilot in real life winning racing events in her single-engine Piper Comanche and once trying to fly from New York to Moscow she was denied entry into Soviet airspace and forced to land in Denmark.  A heavy life-long smoker she died of lung cancer in 1990 at the age of 58.

wyllie

Meg Wyllie as The Keeper.  Wyllie is another longtime bit player in TV shows typically playing the widowed Aunt, a nun, a nurse or a middle-aged housewife. Her most contemporary roles were on The Golden Girls where she appeared multiple times playing five different roles. The only reason she’s included here, is that in all the times I’ve seen this episode since I started watching the reruns as a six or seven year old kid, it never dawned on me until now that this character was played by a woman and not a small, older man.  The voice was of course dubbed; in The Cage is was done by Vic Perrin and the few lines in this episode were dubbed over by co-guest star Malachi Throne.  She died of heart failure at the age of 84 in 2002,

Continuity Issues:

They use Lasers not Phasers – although that can be excused perhaps by the 13-year gap.

Pike calls the Enterprise a Space Vehicle, rather than ship.

Vulcan Nerve Pinches: None

Damn it Jim: Only Kirk, Spock and Uhura’s voice appear in this episode from the regular cast.

Kirk’s Shirt Off:  No

Aged the Best:

They use Kirk’s log record, which they open almost every show with anyway, as a kind of “previously on…” for Part II.  This is a clever way to bring the viewer up to speed but stay in the show.

As bad in some ways as the Talosians looks, they actually don’t look that bad.  If you compare them to the aliens Doctor Who or Lost in Space were turning out around the same time, they’re much better rendered. The veins in their heads pulsating when they transmit to each other was a nice touch – obviously done with balloons and a hand air pump – but once again the practical affects are just so much better than the animated affects like the giant laser blasts.

Aged the Worst:

When only Number One and the female Yeoman get beamed down, Spock yells, “The Women!”  Not, “Commander!”  Or “Yeoman” just a bad look.  It being important the Vina saw herself as beautiful, rather than you know, just a person with a functioning human body.  Once again this show has the entire era’s problem with women.  I’m sorry if you end up sick of this being the answer in so many of these but I actually find it kind of interesting re-watching these for the first time in a long time how many different ways it can be terrible that I never picked up on in the past.

Overall Grade:

B, Great use of The Cage footage and deepens the relationship between Spock and Kirk.  But unlike the first half that was about 50% old footage, this episode is almost completely The Cage.  There’s a reason the network didn’t back the show based on that pilot.  There are problems with it.  The Talosians explanation for why they can’t get help is glaringly stupid, Jeffery Hunter and Susan Oliver have no chemistry.  Majel Barrett, as adequate as she was in future TOS episodes and as great as she was in TNG, is not ready for prime time yet and as we know was only cast because Roddenberry either was already sleeping with her or was trying to. Everyone likes to make fun of Shatner’s hammy acting, but it really is sort of necessary on a show like this – the fx limitations almost require somebody be totally committed to the concept for the audience to buy in – much like Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor.  Hunter is more subtle and succeeded in roles where he was the partner of a more dynamic actor – like in The Searchers.

Tomorrow’s Episode:  Balance of Terror