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A Star Trek Retrospective: The Cage
As Syracuse's best known Star Trek fan, I have decided to write a blog about the episodes of classic Trek. There were 79 episodes altogether so it may take me a while, but I've got the stamina and the guts to make this happen. Hopefully YOU will find them fascinating and informative. I know a wealth of Trek lore and trivia and it's virtually impossible to stump me once I get started. Maybe when the classic series is done, I'll tackle the Next Generation. There are hundreds of episodes to work with so, without further ado, let's dive right in, shall we?
The Original Intro
The Saga Begins...
No opening narrative. Just the cold open blackness of space and that phenomenal starship named Enterprise that we've come to know and love. She's as much a character on the show as Kirk, Spock, Bones and any other human, Vulcan, Klingon, Romulan or Gorn we're likely to meet along the way. But I digress. We're getting ahead of ourselves here. Star Trek is barely a gleam in her daddy's eye, but boy do we have potential brewing here.
Although Star Trek won't celebrate its official anniversary for two more years, it really was born in 1964 - the same year as me - in the mind of a retired police officer named Gene Roddenberry. It wasn't destined to go anywhere. Studio heads all read the script and pretty kiboshed any hopes Gene had of producing his masterful look into the future of humanity.
But wait! Not every producer was that shortsighted. At least one saw the potential for greatness and allowed Roddenberry to film his pilot. And thus Star Trek would be born.
The pilot: The Cage
The crew of the Starship Enterprise investigates a crash by an Earth spacecraft on the unexplored planet of Talos IV. There, they find a survivors encampment complete with elder scientists and a younger woman named Vina who seems oddly out of place with the lot of them. The Captain is captured by aliens who put him in a cage where he can react to suggestions placed in his mind. The one resounding commonality in all the visions is the woman Vina who can appear to Pike as anything he desires her to be.
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew are focused on rescuing the Captain from his captors. There's a greater purpose at work here, though, and the Captain may just be unable to break himself away from the prison in which he has been placed.
The casting of the pilot was quite different from the rest of the series. We meet a different Captain and, while Spock is certainly there, his stoic persona is trapped inside the body of the female first officer dubbed strictly as Number One. None of the other familiar crew would appear until later episodes of the series, either.
Captain Christopher Pike
Chris Pike was the first Captain of the Enterprise that we would meet on screen. (It won't be until years later that we find that Pike wasn't the first captain though - that honor falls to Captain Jonathan Archer who we meet in the Star Trek prequel 'Enterprise') Pike is a stoic commander who has seen his share of battles and adventures. He's worn out and ready to quit but he knows that he has a duty to his ship and his crew. The timing is perfect, though, for a mini vacation and even though he doesn't know it, he's about to get one, courtesy of the mind altering Talosians. In subsequent years, Pike would become a fleet Admiral and eventually be hideously disfigured in a plasma explosion. We will learn more about him in the two part classic Trek episode 'The Menagerie'.
Date of Birth: November 25, 1926
Place of Birth: New Orleans, Louisiana
Date of Death: May 27, 1969
Born Henry Herman McKinnies Jr. in New Orleans, Hunter acted in several stage plays while in school and eventually broke into movies and television. During the 50's and 60's, he appeared in dozens of movies but is probably best known for playing Jesus in the 1961 movie King of Kings. He starred as the title character in the short lived TV drama Temple Houston and was offered the part of Christopher Pike when the second pilot was greenlighted for Star Trek. He opted out and shortly thereafter his acting career suffered a decline. In 1969, he had a stroke and fell off of a ladder. He underwent emergency surgery but died from medical complications at the age of 42.
Spock is the science officer in this episode of the show, but he wouldn't attain the first officer role until the second pilot "Where No Man has Gone Before" under James Kirk. Here, Spock, who is a Vulcanian (shortened to Vulcan, subsequently), is still a highly emotional character as attested by his outbursts during the rescue efforts of his Captain. Eventually, his character would be amalgamated with Number One, Pike's emotionless female first officer who NBC execs felt didn't belong on the ship. Note also that Spock's rigid features and haircut are noticeably less neat in this episode and will eventually become all the more rigid along with his characterization. Spock almost became a victim of executive shortsightedness when they felt that he looked too devilish and wanted him gone too, but Roddenberry fought for his survival and created one of television's most memorable faces.
Date of Birth: March 26, 1931
Place of Birth: Boston, Massachusetts
Nimoy has been a fixture in the Star Trek universe from its inception 50 years ago. Playing Spock in both pilots and carrying the role over to the original series, six motion pictures featuring the classic crew, an appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation and then returning for both J.J. Abrams reboots. He has also directed several motion pictures including Star Trek 3 and 4, Three Men and a Baby and several TV show episodes (including an episode of T.J. Hooker that starred his Trek co-star William Shatner. After Trek, Nimoy also appeared for two seasons on Mission: Impossible and has made a number of guest appearances on other shows and in movies.
As the first officer of the Starship Enterprise, Number One is the right hand woman of Captain Christopher Pike. While Pike rarely tolerates women on the bridge of the ship, Number One is decidedly different, not allowing emotion to dictate her actions. While she certainly made for a unique presence on the ship, the powers-that-be at the production studio decided that she was too stoic and needed to go along with the satanic looking Spock, but Roddenberry instead merged the two characters into one and created the iconic Vulcan who would be elevated to the number two chair beginning with the second pilot.
Date of Birth: February 23, 1932
Place of Birth: Columbus, OH
Date of Death: December 18, 2008
Majel Barrett (Roddenberry)
Majel Barrett is an indelible part of Star Trek's vast history. Her involvement, just like Leonard Nimoy, began in 1964 with her portrayal of Number One in the pilot episode "The Cage". When the producers told Gene Roddenberry that he would have to get rid of her, he created a new character instead - Nurse Christine Chapel, who become a recurring character throughout the original series and who would resurface again in the motion pictures. Barrett, who married Roddenberry in 1969, would later appear in Star Trek: The Next Generation as Lwaxana Troi, Deanna's mother and also played the computer voice on all the show's incarnations. She also appeared in a number of science fiction TV shows in her later years, including Babylon 5 and the Roddenberry created futuristic drama, Earth: Final Conflict. Sadly, she passed away in December of 2008 from complications related to Leukemia.
The Guest Cast
Star Trek invited a number of well known guests into the folds during the three year run and even this pilot is no exception. While Susan Oliver was the main guest for this episode, several other faces also make appearances and some of them may be recognizable to Trek fans from other episodes or perhaps from other series where they later appeared. Here's a rundown of the guest cast:
Vina - Susan Oliver
Date of Birth: February 13, 1932
Place of Birth: New York, New York
Date of Death: May 10, 1990
Susan Oliver was a familiar face to television audiences of the '50's, '60's and '70's after she made dozens of appearances on some of TV's most popular shows. She's probably best remembered, though, for playing Ann Howard on the soap opera Peyton Place. A smoker for most of her life, Susan seccumbed to cancer and died in 1990 at the age of 58.
The rest of the cast
Dr. Philip Boyce
Lt. Jose Tyler
Yeoman J.M. Colt
Dr. Theodore Haskins
The Wrap Up
The Cage was an atypical episode in the Star Trek franchise. It actually made you stop and think about life and what we take for granted. What happened to Pike took place largely in his mind, yet his reactions were real within those contexts. In many ways, this episode was a precursor to holodecks and holosuites which would be introduced in later incarnations of Trek.
The one thing that cannot be disputed here is that Gene Roddenberry was a genius when it came to story development. And NBC couldn't easily dismiss or write off what he wanted to do or accomplish. The fact that Star Trek transcended and survived for nearly fifty years is proof of that. And everything that came after Star Trek (2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and any of a plethora of science fiction movies and TV shows) owe their success to Star Trek. Trek went boldly where no series had gone before...and it still leads the way even today. In the immortal words of that famous Vulcan, it lived long and has prospered. And so have we, the viewers, who were carried into space on that marvelous starship named Enterprise.