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Star Trek – The Cage (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

The Cage is fascinating. Looking at it now, it holds up phenomenally well a s apiece of sixties science-fiction. However, it feels like we’re watching a prototype of Star Trek. In many respects, The Cage feels like a rough sketch that captures some essentials, but is missing out on the finer details. Spock is there! But he smiles! The set design looks the same, but the characters are different. Some of the cast fill the same roles, but some are dramatically different. Watching The Cage, you can see a lot of the philosophy that Gene Roddenberry would bring to Star Trek, but it’s very difficult to imagine an on-going series spinning out of this adventure, let alone one that managed to become as iconic or influential as Star Trek would ever be.

Still, it’s pretty solid viewing. It’s entertaining on its own terms, but it’s also informative in the context of the series. It’s more like dry run or a test drive of the concept.

To boldly go... for some reworking...

To boldly go… for some reworking…

The history of The Cage is pretty well-known at this point. It was the show’s first pilot, but one that didn’t make it to air. After developing the concept and producing the episode, Roddenberry showed The Cage to the executives. They were thrilled with the ideas but took some exception with the execution, as he notes in his introduction to the extended cut of the episode:

The networks’ very top program executive was impressed by the fact that this film made him feel as if he’d actually been flying in a space ship. Doing something almost never done before, the network ordered a second pilot, and this one had better be familiar action adventure, or else!

So a second pilot was commissioned, and Roddenberry produced something much more in the vein of “familiar action adventure.” Indeed, Roddenberry’s second pilot – Where No Man Has Gone Before – firmly established the show as more of a science-fiction western. There are fist fights and abandoned outposts and desert planets to anchor the big philosophical ideas and high concepts. And, of course, there’s James Tiberius Kirk, who is fairly effectively established as more of a cowboy than any other Star Trek character ever, with no offense to Christopher Pike.

A fighting chance...

A fighting chance…

You don’t get more “familiar action adventure” than the western for American audiences. Indeed, in Star Trek as Myth and Television as Myth-maker, William Blake Tyrell argues that Roddenberry crafted the series so that it would be an instantly iconic piece of Americana:

Gene Roddenberry, creator of the series, referred to it, if only in jest, as “‘Wagon Train’ to the stars”, and the similarity between groups journeying toward the unknown is evident. Movement is a prominent motif of both the Western and Star Trek where it is made visual in the flyby of the gliding starship. But the similarity goes deeper. The Western story is the only indigenous mythic narrative of the white American. “The isolation of a vast unexplored continent, the slow growth of social forms, the impact of an unremitting New England Puritanism obsessed with the cosmic struggle of good and evil, of the elect and the damned, the clash of allegiances to Mother Country and New World, these factors,” as Jim Kitses says in Focus on the Western, “are the crucible in which the American consciousness was formed.” Since the publication in 1893 of Frederick J. Turner’s essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”, the dominant symbol of the Western myth has been the frontier. Star Trek views space as “the final frontier.”

However, The Cage feels quite different from Where No Man Has Gone Before, in that it doesn’t embrace the concept of the “science-fiction western” so wholeheartedly. The Cage is a very different beast, and it’s easy to understand the suspicion that the public might not be quite ready for it.

A caged captain...

A caged captain…

In a way, The Cage actually feels more like an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation than of the original series. It’s certainly more devoted to a pure science-fiction high-concept than most episodes of classic Star Trek, and Christopher Pike seems like a closer relative to Picard (or even Sisko) than to the cowboy ways of Captain James T. Kirk. It’s a lot less dynamic – to the point where it seems like Pike is given a dream fight sequence simply because the hour is relatively action-lite otherwise – but it’s full of big and bold ideas.

Indeed, it seems very much in the spirit of a weird 1960’s science-fiction anthology show, like a particularly lavish instalment of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone. As I noted above, while The Cage is a wonderfully solid piece of science-fiction on its own terms, it doesn’t quite scream “on-going series”, and it’s very strange to imagine how this cast would have developed over the course of one season, let alone three.

It burns!

It burns!

Of course, it’s hard to judge Where No Man Has Gone Before on the merits of its ensemble. Scotty and Sulu appear there, but it’s hardly as if they are more developed than Boyce or Tyler are here. So I guess I’m really just comparing Christopher Pike and Number One, who feel like less charismatic early drafts of Kirk and Spock. Spock, of course, also appears here, but he is nowhere near as defined as he would be in Where No Man Has Gone Before.

It’s quite strange to hear Spock speak so casually. “If we start buzzing about down there,” he advises the crew, “we’re liable to find their mental power is so great they could reach out and swat this ship as though it were a fly.” He smiles as he explores the planet surface. He even gets to dramatically gasp “the women!” when Number One and the Yeoman are transported away.

Safety on the job...

Safety on the job…

Continuity fans might argue that this is merely a younger Spock with less emotional control, it’s hard to argue that it’s really the same character between here and the next pilot. After all, character development doesn’t really count if it’s merely inferred and never dealt with on-screen. Instead, Number One actually fills the “Spock” archetype here, presented as the crewmember with the strongest grasp of logic and a little uncomfortable with emotions.

It’s great to see Star Trek begin with a strong female member of the ensemble cast, and it’s nice that Number One avoids many of the sexist stereotypes that were far too common with female characters on sixties television. She’s a competent commanding officer, taking effective charge of the situation when Pike isn’t present. I’ll be the first to concede that both Star Trek and The Next Generation suffer a bit with gender roles, so it’s incredibly frustrating that Number One was scrapped.

The brains of the operation...

The brains of the operation…

Apparently the test audience – especially female audience members, if you believe both Inside Star Trek: The Real Story and William Shatner’s Star Trek: Memories – loathed the character, and Roddenberry was forced to choose between Number One and Spock. According to Majel Barrett-Roddenberry:

When we started out in ’64, um, I was playing Number One, which was a woman second in command of a star ship. Now that was innovative, but of course NBC got ahold of it and ‘You’ve got to get rid of the broad. No one will believe a woman second in control of a big star ship’.

They said, ‘You’ve got to get rid of the guy with the ears ‘cos he looks too Satanic’. But the third thing was you’ve got to make it more men than women, because otherwise they’re going to think there’s a lot of hanky panky going on in the star ship.

Gene, realising that he was hitting his head against a wall, and realising what the mentality of the people who were making those decisions was, figured he would do in my case, although he knew it was going to break my heart, figured he would fight and keep the Spock character and marry the woman.

So we all got basically what we wanted, and as far as the women are concerned, he figured that 30 good women could handle a crew of 300 anyway. So that’s how we ended up with our crew.

That gives you sense of the culture in which Star Trek evolved, and it’s lucky that as many progressive ideas actually made it to screen. Anyway, Roddenberry made the most of the options open to him, and effectively consolidated Number One’s mentality into Spock. The version of Spock seen in Where No Man Has Gone Before owes quite a debt to the logical and no-nonsense first officer in The Cage.

Keeping his ear to the ground...

Keeping his ear to the ground…

That said, it’s not as if the portrayal of Number One could be considered truly progressive. For all her portrayal avoids clichés concerning the typical use of female characters in television, the show goes out of its way to assure viewers that she’s really just a stereotypical girl underneath all those unconventional traits. “The female you call Number One has the superior mind and would produce highly intelligent children,” the Talosians assure Pike. And then they explicitly explain, “Although she seems to lack emotion, this is largely a pretence. She has often has fantasies involving you.”

Because, you know, it’s clearly impossible for a female character to actually be efficient and effective. It’s all just an act, to mask the fact that – yes – she’s actually really a girly girl, with her emotions and her fantasies about those rugged manly men she works with. It also doesn’t help that the show insists that Number One immediately get defensive and passive-aggressive when interacting with Vina, resorting to catty comments about the woman’s age.

Watch this space...

Watch this space…

“You’re no better choice,” Vina snidely remarks when the Talosians suggest Pike and Number One get it on. “They’d have more luck crossing him with a computer.” Number One responds, “Well, shall we do a little time computation? There was a Vina listed on that expedition as an adult crewman. Now, adding eighteen years to your age then…” She has a valid point, but it’s written in such a way as to make it seem like she’s just sniping at Vina in response to Vina’s rather pithy comment.

The conversation sets up the reveal that Vina is not as she appears to be, but it’s very clearly written as two women fighting over a man. Number One isn’t insulted that Vina accused her of being too rational, she’s upset because Vina insisted that she could never hook up with Christopher Pike. It’s a very awkward moment, and it’s a shame that The Cage compromises Number One so readily. There’s a lot of potential here and he’s quite possibly the best role that Majel Barrett-Roddenberry played in the entire franchise.

There's no way he'd miss a head shot...

There’s no way he’d miss a head shot…

It feels like a patronising and condescending attempt to pander, to make a strong female character seem less threatening in a society that still had its share of institutional sexism. The problem, of course, is that Number One still remains the most dynamic female character in the original Star Trek. Indeed, she’s the most feminist lead character in the franchise until Major Kira appears in Emissary. It’s a shame that the show compromises her by presenting her efficiency and professionalism as a front, but she’s still better than the use of female characters as glorified receptionists, waitresses and as nurses on the Enterprise seen in Where No Man Has Gone Before and beyond.

I suppose that a lot of it is culturally relative. By today’s standards, Number One feels like the worst possible portrayal of feminism. She’s a woman who has earned her place among men by becoming cold and rational. That’s hardly ideal of itself, veering dangerously close to stereotype. However, she’s not even allowed that, as it’s revealed to be a pretense and that all she secretly wants is some hot lovin’ to set her straight. Still, for the time when the show aired, Number One was undoubtedly a step in the right direction. While she’s troublesome today, television in the 1960s could have used a few more Number Ones. Which is a very weird sentence to type.

The menegerie...

The menagerie…

That said, The Cage is most interested in Pike as a character. This is Pike’s story. He actually has a very clear character arc at the heart of The Cage, as he comes to terms with his cynicism and his disenfranchisement. Pike is arguably more finely developed in this episode than Kirk would be in his first couple of stories. Of course, Shatner masks that by exuding charm and charisma, but The Cage seems interested in Pike in a way that Where No Man Has Gone Before is not interested in Kirk.

Of course, this is a double-edged sword. The beauty of Star Trek is its optimism – the sheer joy of travelling to the cosmos and seeing what lies ahead of mankind. So it feels strange to open with a lead who is so bitter and resigned. Pike seems incredibly cynical. “You bet I’m tired,” he tells Boyce. “You bet. I’m tired of being responsible for two hundred and three lives. I’m tired of deciding which mission is too risky and which isn’t, and who’s going on the landing party and who doesn’t, and who lives and who dies. Boy, I’ve had it, Phil.” In fact, he’s tired “to the point of considering resigning.”

Horsing around...

Horsing around…

To be fair, the whole point of The Cage is to allow Pike to comes to term with the violence in his past, and to accept that the universe really is a wondrous place. I can understand that, but it feels like a bit of a strange arc for a pilot of a science-fiction show in the sixties. Man was only half-a-decade away from setting foot on the moon. NASA was still keenly interested in space exploration, and it was a source of national pride. Even if we take the show out of its historical concept, we can tell that space is wondrous from that opening shot. (It is not a bad effect for the time, but the remastered version looks even better.)

So spending the episode with a guy who clearly just wants to go home is less than appealing. And he’s explicit about it. Asked what he would do if he resigned, he replies, “Well, for one thing, go home. Nice little town with fifty miles of parkland around it. Remember I told you I had two horses, and we used to take some food and ride out all day.” In fact, the image is so alluring and so firmly established that the Talosians pull it from his head and make him live it out.

Strange new worlds...

Strange new worlds…

That’s not really a guy you want to carpool with. Pike feels a little bit like a prototype of Patrick Stewart’s Picard. He’s emotionally detached. The crew is afraid of him, in the same way they spend most of the first year of The Next Generation afraid of Picard. Pike seems much more intellectual and reflective than Kirk ever did. He’s introverted and articulate, calling to mind Picard’s rather diplomatic and guarded nature.

He’s defined by his intelligence more than his strength. He very quickly figures out what is going on. “So they can see how their specimen performs?” he asks Vina, after figuring out he’s in a zoo. “They want to see how I react, is that it?” It’s arguably not that difficult to figure out, but Pike is also smart enough to attack the Talosians using his mind. “Or do they do more than just watch me? Do they feel with me, too?”

He's got a feel for this sort of thing...

He’s got a feel for this sort of thing…

In fact, he’s shrewd enough to figure out when the Talosians are manipulating him. When his phaser stops working, he suggests, “I’m willing to bet you’ve created an illusion this laser is empty. I think it just blasted a hole in that window and you’re keep us from seeing it.” He is, of course, right. Pike seems a bit less gung-ho than Kirk, and more rational and logical. Then again, The Cage is very much high-concept science-fiction more than an adventure in space.

Pike even inspired a few of Picard’s character traits. Both men refer to their second-in-command as “Number One”, and Pike was the first Star Trek captain to utter, “engage!” Yet Picard seemed much more fascinated with the wider cosmos than Pike does here. There’s no “let’s see what’s out there moment”, even after Pike has his faith in humanity rekindled. It’s a bit unfair to judge him on one episode, but Pike seems less fun than the notably stoic Picard from the first few episodes of The Next Generation.

Talosian all...

Talosian all…

However, it’s also worth noting that Sisko owes a more concious debt to Pike. Both Pike and Sisko are introduced to their audience in the depths of apathy following a major loss. Both seem to be on the cusp of giving up the wondrous assignment they have been given – although, to be fair, Deep Space Nine originally looks like a convenient place to dump the local sourpuss. Indeed, both Pike and Sisko seem to have rather… intense reactions to things.

“You stop this illusion, or I’ll twist your head off,” Pike threatens one of his captors. As you might imagine, it stops. “All right, now you try one more illusion, you try anything at all, and I’ll break your neck.” Sisko might not have done anything that dramatic in his pilot, but he did threaten to take off his first officer’s head in the show’s second story. That said, this character arc works much better for Sisko than it does for Pike.

Grabbing life by the throat...

Grabbing life by the throat…

There are reasons for this. Most obviously, Sisko was not the first lead actor in a Star Trek show. He wasn’t even the only lead actor in a Star Trek show while Deep Space Nine was on the air. His pessimism and cynicism contrasted with the energy and enthusiasm of Picard and Kirk. The optimistic outlook of Star Trek had been so firmly established that Sisko could define himself in contrast to it. Pike, on the other hand, would have been the first lead actor we would have met. So his cynicism is lot harder to reconcile with the bright colours and the idea of space exploration.

Sisko is also humanised by the presence of his son Jake. Sisko has reason to soldier on as a parent and a relative. He’s not alone in his pain, and he’s not wallowing in self-pity. Pike, on the other hand, drinks with the ship’s doctor in his quarters. Even then, there’s a sense that Boyce isn’t necessarily a close friend. He’s just the closest member of the crew. It makes you wonder who Pike is actually connected to on the ship. Kirk has tremendous chemistry with Spock and McCoy, but Pike seems too aloof from his crew, too divorced.

So she thinks she can dance?

So she thinks she can dance?

That’s not to say that Christopher Pike wouldn’t have made a solid leading man, given time. He just seems rather strange viewed in the context of The Cage. In fact, The Cage watches quite well as a stand-alone tale, but it’s a strange start to a show. Jeffrey Hunter is pretty great in the role, and it’s a shame that he never came back to Star Trek. According to Herbert F. Solow, Hunter’s wife, Dusty, was the one who convinced him not to return to the show for the second pilot. I think it’s safe to say that the franchise would look very different if he had.

Still, even if The Cage isn’t a perfect launching pad, it’s still fascinating stuff. The show drips with atmosphere thanks to Robert Butler’s direction. Indeed, Pike’s first glimpse of the menagerie is a wonderfully effective sequence – something which manages to be quite unnerving despite the sixties production design, the bright colours and the fact that the alien creatures are clearly men in suits. It’s weird in a way that only the best of classic Star Trek is, and that’s a fantastic sort of weird.

The show would blossom...

The show would blossom…

To be fair, The Cage does capture some of the same pioneering spirit that Star Trek would embrace. There’s a sense here that space travel is still fairly recent, and Starfleet is really only beginning to map the unknown. Speaking the survivors of a crash that happened only two decades earlier, Tyler boasts, “And you won’t believe how fast you can get back. Well the time barrier’s been broken. Our new ships can…” That said, the “time warp” effect is pretty gnaff. It’s endearing to see, but I’m glad the show ditched it.

Still, the episode is more about bigger ideas than about adventure or excitement. Indeed, the crew try to rescue Pike through sheer brute force, only to witness the literal victory of mind over matter. “Disengage,” Number One commands when the phaser doesn’t seem to work. “The top of that knoll should have been sheared off the first second.” Boyce concurs, “Maybe it was. It’s what I tried to explain in the briefing room. Their power of illusion is so great, we can’t be sure of anything we do, anything we see.”

Night of the Hunter...

Night of the Hunter…

The Cage raises questions about the nature of perception and reality, and questions the gap between the two. Indeed, even his dinner isn’t necessarily what it appears to be. Noting Pike’s reluctance to eat, one of his captors offers, “If the form and the colour is not appealing, it can appear as any food you wish to visualise.” It’s a fascinating concept, the idea that the Talosians can bend Pike’s perception of reality to their own whims – and what the implications of that are.

Is the titular cage still a cage if we can’t see the bars? Does it matter that the fire isn’t real if we can still feel it? These are fascinating questions. “You can tell my jailers I won’t go along with it,” Pike advises Vina. “I’m not an animal performing for its supper.” Vina makes it clear that his perception of the situation is much less tangible than the Talosians’ view of events. “It doesn’t matter what you call this, you’ll feel it. That’s what matters. You’ll feel every moment of whatever happens to you.”

Worth a shot...

Worth a shot…

Of course, it’s also a metaphor for television. And it’s a nice little idea for the first episode of Star Trek. After all, the show’s special effects were pretty fantastic for the time, but nobody was going to believe that this is what a space ship would look like, or even that this is what a cave would look like. The show’s wonderful production design – like a lot of television at the time – had an almost hyperreal design, a sense that it was obvious fake, but a perfectly made fake. One that captured the essence of and represented something, rather than trying to appear “realistic”, as much as that word applies in the context of a show like Star Trek.

The Cage suggests that perception is almost as important as the material, while acknowledging that the superficial is less important than the substantial. If Pike believes the fire is real, he will burn. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t. If we believe that this is really a futuristic adventure, it will be – regardless of the cardboard sets. However, the essence of the show is more important. As pretty and as fake as it might look, there is some underlying truth here. Underneath the green-skinned slave girl and the obligatory fight scene, there are important questions and ideas that are more important than monsters in silly masks or cardboard corridors. And The Cage, shrewdly, acknowledges that.

The pointy-earred devil in the dark...

The pointy-earred devil in the dark…

However, it also seems to be a criticism of television, at the same time. When Vina describes the way that their reality-bending eroded Talosian culture, it sounds like Vina could be quoting from any generic argument about how new media rots your brain or chips away at your soul. “But they found it’s a trap. Like a narcotic. Because when dreams become more important than reality, you give up travel, building, creating. You even forget how to repair the machines left behind by your ancestors. You just sit, living and reliving other lives left behind in the thought record.”

It almost reads like a bit of moral panic – overblown concerns about television-watching generating sloth of apathy. Indeed, a cynic might argue that it could be a condemnation of the sort of slavish devotion generated by cult shows like Star Trek. After all, don’t fans like us “just sit, living and reliving other [fictional] lives left behind in the thought record”? Of course, it’s unlikely that Roddenberry ever imagined the impact that Star Trek would have, but it’s interesting that the unaired pilot would contain a line that could so easily be read of a criticism of unquestioning media consumption.

Life in a bubble...

Life in a bubble…

More than any moral questions about how society dumbs itself down with excessive reliance on fantasy, The Cage also features more than its fair share of clever science-fiction ideas. For example, there’s the notion that the Talosians tried to put Vina back together, but didn’t exactly have a blueprint to work from – an idea that Steven Moffat would draw upon when writing a Doctor Who episode forty years later. “They found me in the wreckage, dying,” she explains. “A lump of flesh. They rebuilt me. Everything works. But they had never seen a human. They had no guide for putting me back together.”

The ending of The Cage is quite challenging. Pike rejects the illusions offered by the Talosians for harsh reality, but Vina can’t do that. And, to be fair, it’s hard to blame her. The Talosians try to make her feel better by giving her another version of Christopher Pike to keep her happy. It raises all manner of ethical concerns – for example, who are the Talosians to decide how Vina deals with reality? – but it is also easy to understand. After all, Vina seems to understand her situation on some level. As romantic as it is to believe that mankind will always choose a cruel reality over a romantic delusion, The Cage seems somewhat honest. (That said, it does seem to play the departure of Vina and the man of her dreams oddly enthusiastically.)

If you imagine William Shatner in this pose, it becomes a very different scene...

If you imagine William Shatner in this pose, it becomes a very different scene…

There’s also a very real sense of exploration here, the idea that mankind is still learning and evolving. One of my problems with the early episode of The Next Generation was the way that Roddenberry suggested mankind was perfect, that we had achieved utopia. I think that the first season of Star Trek works better because it recognises that mankind won’t ever be perfect, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. The moment that we close ourselves to the wonders of the universe, we might as well just pack it in.

Even after everything the Talosians have done to Pike, he still forgives them. He still offers to help. “Your unsuitability has condemned the Talosian race to eventual death,” they bitterly tell him. “Is this not sufficient?” They reveal that they were pinning their hopes on us. “No other specimen has shown your adaptability. You were our last hope.” I like that it is human versatility that distinguishes us – our willingness to evolve and adapt.

Pike feels strangely energised...

Pike feels strangely energised…

I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with the way Star Trek presents humanity as inherently superior to everything else out there, but “adaptability” is probably the most humble way of suggesting mankind’s potential. It’s not that we are perfect, or that we’re amazing. It’s our willingness to improve and to learn. Of course, the insinuation that we are just biologically better at it than everybody else in the universe feels a little strange, but it’s at least better than saying we’re better because we’re smarter or more virtuous or something like that.

Still, I like that Pike is willing to help. Despite his bitterness and his righteous anger, he can forgive, and he doesn’t want the Talosians to suffer and die. “But wouldn’t some form of trade, mutual co-operation…?” he offers, reaching. And then the Talosians politely refuse. “Your race would learn our power of illusion and destroy itself too.” It’s a nice touch, the suggestion that the Talosians aren’t demons or monsters, and that humanity itself would probably fall prey to the same temptations and addictions. We’re not ready yet. Maybe one day we will be.

A commanding presence...

A commanding presence…

That’s probably the one thing that The Cage established perfectly, and the one element that was carried over almost perfectly to the first season of Star Trek. That philosophy of adventure, the notion that mankind has so much to learn about out there in the cosmos. Particularly Star Trek returns – time and time and time again – to the image of dying ancient societies. There’s What are Little Girls Made Of, The Guardian of Forever, The Man Trap, among others.

Their decay and collapse (and even their withdrawal from the universe) is contrasted with humanity’s energy and enthusiasm as the Federation begins to truly claim their place among the stars. There’s a sense that the old world is passing, and a new world is dawning. Mankind is stepping out into a universe where the established order has faded away, and where there’s a chance to define a new future. Roddenberry appropriates the imagery of the American frontier, but he’s carving a new mythology. This time there’s no colonialism, no genocide of native people, no exploitation of natural resources, no slavery.

"I think this show has potential..."

“I think this show has potential…”

Star Trek is optimistic. It dares to hope that we’ve learned a lot from our past, and Roddenberry dares to imagine a mostly peaceful expansion, trying to reimagine that great American mythology for a new age. It’s no coincidence that The Cage was produced in 1964. Kennedy had been assassinated in November 1963, and you could argue that America’s optimism was fading as the myth of “Camelot” collapsed. And yet, a glimmer of that optimism remained. In the wake of the Second World War, the United States had emerged as a dominant world power. The old world was fading, like those ancient dying civilisations scattered around the universe.

Star Trek really was an optimistic expression of the American pop consciousness, extrapolating a peaceful and idealistic continuation of “the American Century.” The Cage seeds that idea remarkably well, and that’s something that is vitally important to Star Trek. The Cage might not be the perfect first episode, and it might be for the best it didn’t serve as the nation’s introduction to Star Trek, but it was still a damn fine piece of television.

What are we running here, a cadet ship, Number One? Are we ready or not?

All decks show ready, sir.

Engage.

– Pike and Number One want to see what’s out there

You might be interested in our other reviews from the first season of the classic Star Trek:

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9 Responses

  1. TOS will always be best. Great write-up

    • I don’t know. I think you could make a pretty solid case for any of the first three shows standing up to scrutiny. I’d be reluctant to pick a favourite from those three, to be entirely honest. Voyager and Enterprise much less so, even if Enterprise improved in its last two years. If you are interested in TOS, we’re doing episode reviews daily at 6pm GMT, so feel free to pop back.

  2. Great job. Here’s a review of a 50 year old show that never aired. It doesn’t seem like it should have much relevance, but man, you really rekindled my love of Trek!

    I jotted a few things down:

    It’s funny that Kirk comes off as more of a cowboy given Hunter’s prominent role in ‘The Searchers.’

    NBC asked for a second pilot, so George Takei was hired. *ba-dum-chee*

    Number One’s absence from the regular show is pretty disappointing. I get that Roddenberry had to compromise to get anything on the air, but Barrett’s regression of roles still stings a little. Your criticism of Number One is legitimate, but she’s far more developed than Nurse Chapel, whose main motivation seemed to crush on Spock.

    You mentioned Kira was the first truly developed, mature female character on Trek. I agree. Though she didn’t erupt, she evolved. Watching TOS and TNG and DS9 can make it seem like she came from nowhere. But I think the movies offers a progression of strong and well-written female characters that makes Kira’s sophistication more natural. Carol Marcus, Saavik, and even Gillian Taylor chart a course from the short skirted assistants of TOS straight through to the fully realized female persons that inhabited DS9. Then they got a Borg supermodel and proved rule 34.

    • Good points all. Love the Takei line!

      And you’re right, I did sell the movies short. Hm. A re-watch might be in order. And, now that I think of it, Ro was a fairly solid female character, albeit a supporting one. There’s the obvious story that she was supposed to be a regular cast member of Deep Space Nine or whatever, but I do like Kira more. It would have been interesting to have Ro return to post-Occupation Bajor, but I think it was vital the show had at least one cast member who had lived through that from the Bajoran perspective. I would happily have traded Dax for Ro, though!

      I was probably a bit harsh on Number One. She is a wonderful character for the time, and the biggest loss between here and Where No Man Has Gone Before. re-watching the first season underscored just how sexist the classic Star Trek was, and giving Kirk a strong female member of senior staff would have remedied that. Although I’m sad the new movies are relegating McCoy to sidekick role (Urban’s performance is phenomenal), I am glad that they are pushing Uhura to the fore as the member of the new, revised trilogy.

  3. Five years after The Cage was filmed, humans in reality first set foot on the surface of another world.

    Fifty years after The Cage was filmed, the U.S. is no longer a space faring civilization.

    We would rather watch reality TV than practice actual science. The History Channel originally taught its viewers real history; now it pushes trash about UFOs and ghosts as if the trash were truth. Never mind going back to the moon, we’ve forgotten how to achieve low-Earth orbit.

    Vina’s statement from 1964 was tragically prophetic. “…when dreams become more important than reality, you give up travel, building, creating. You even forget how to repair the machines left behind by your ancestors. You just sit, living and reliving other lives left behind in the thought record.”

    • Very succinct point.

      Amazing how all that wonder has gone.

      Then again, the recent reboot coincides with a broader resurgence in sixties Americana, including renewed interest in space. We can only hope.

    • It all comes down to money. The US still spends like it’s competing with the Soviet Union, but it has no competitor, so the US is just sort of meandering, and paradoxically, has no money for big projects to accomplish on it’s own. The heights the US aspire to is a Great Wall of Mexico and an underachieving discount mission to Mars.

  4. Intended or not, I think Pike’s character here is perfectly in line with the experience of Roddenberry’s generation. The optimism in media from the ’50s and ’60s, and the perceived righteousness of World War II, doesn’t change how the atomic age and the space race followed up a devastating conflict that scarred the minds and bodies of those who fought in it. It’s easy to forget that in hindsight, I think, especially given the unrealistic reverence that’s been ginned up for “the greatest generation”.

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