Star Trek (TV Series): “The Cage” (Unaired Pilot)

Star Trek (TV Series): "The Cage" (Unaired Pilot)Synopsis:

The Cage begins with the spaceship USS Enterprise, commanded by Captain Pike (Jeffrey Hunter, The Searchers), answering a distress call from the mysterious planet Talos IV. The landing party, which includes a strangely agitated alien science officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers), finds a group of Federation scientists who were reported missing years before. But things aren’t as they appear to be.

Reaction & Thoughts:

We all know the story. After NBC green-lighted Gene Roddenberry’s “wagon-to-the-stars” idea, he submitted a few storylines for the approval of the top brass. The studio picked one, but after watching the final product, they had second thoughts. “Too cerebral” and “not enough action” were the main complaints. Interestingly, the executives blamed themselves – that’s a first! – for selecting the wrong script and gave Roddenberry more money to produce a second pilot, and the rest is history.

Later, the unused pilot was re-edited into The Menagerie Part 1 & 2 (Season 1, Episode 11 & 12). Thankfully, the original pilot has survived and we all can judge with our own eyes the pros & cons of the first voyage of the spaceship Enterprise. My first impression is of disbelief. This “reject” is not only quite good, but also provides viewers with a fascinating window into a cultural phenomenon in its infancy.

It’s a remarkable production (for TV), clearly indebted to MGM’s 1956 classic Forbidden Planet. It’s interesting, gutsy, and quite visionary — from a mixed-gender and mixed-race crew to the innovative sets and visual effects, this show is a trailblazer in every sense of the word. In the tradition of Tolkien, Roddenberry managed to create a universe from the ground up, not an easy task by any means. Unlike modern science fiction shows, the emphasis is on story and characters. The visuals enhance rather than distract from the storyline and the characterizations.

Obviously, some elements didn’t survive the second pilot (commonly known as episode #3 Where No Man Has Gone Before). The biggest casualty was Captain Pike. Hunter was released from his contract after the network found most of his demands unacceptable (legend says that Hunter’s wife was to blame for the breakdown of negotiations). In retrospective, it was the best thing that ever happened to the show. As good as Hunter is, I don’t think that Hunter’s world-weary Pike would have worked well within Roddenberry’s optimism. Also, Hunter has little rapport with actor Nimoy.

The network vehemently objected to the character of Number One (Majel Barrett) — they couldn’t accept a cold-blooded woman in command so Roddenberry relented. He also got rid of John Hoyt, who plays the ship’s doctor (he’s a bit too old). But Roddenberry would not let go of Spock, which executives found unappealing. He insisted that an alien aboard the ship was needed in order to remind viewers that this was a science fiction show. The characters of Uhura, Chekov, Scotty, Zulu and McCoy are sorely missed though. With Susan Oliver, and Jon Lormer.

However, most of the things that Trekkies love about the show are here. Composer Alexander Courage’s memorable theme helps establish an atmosphere of adventure and wonder. The costumes and production design suffered little changes.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The Cage, directed by Robert Butler, still stands tall among other giants of science fiction and television. Color, 64 minutes, Not Rated.

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