TREK-A-DAY: The Menagerie Part I
EPISODE ELEVEN: The Menagerie Part I
I’ve been really looking forward to this episode; it was the first I ever watched start to finish of The Original Series and sold me on its merits long before I had any interest in really watching it. This episode is remarkable for a number of reasons: from a story perspective, it raises a bunch of interesting questions and sheds new light on characters we have known for some time (like Spock) while delivering a great mystery. From a production standpoint, this episode re-purposes the original pilot episode (featuring a different captain and a female first mate) into an incredibly good regular series episode. How many shows have done that?
The story beings with The Enterprise arriving at a star base because of a falsified order the ship recieved. Upon landing, they find The Enterprise‘s former captain Chris Pike has been severely injured and is confined to a wheelchair box, only able to respond with one beep for yes, two beeps for no. Everyone is confused as to why they are there, except Spock, who has planned the whole thing and pulls off an epically well planned mutiny; kidnapping Pike, hijacking The Enterprise and setting course for the only restricted planet in the galaxy, Talos IV.
Kirk manages to catch up with him at which point Spock surrenders himself, but not the ship, to court marshel. The episode proceeds with Spock’s trial judged by Kirk, an admiral, and Pike. Having carefully planned this, Spock begins transmissions from Talos as evidence and thus we the viewer get to watch the adventures of Chris Pike. What’s particularly neat about this is that the frame work has set up Talos as super dangerous and the characters and script imbue it with great status; so what was otherwise a standard “Captain gets captured on alien planet” story instead becomes a much more epic tale of danger and intrigue. Hat’s off to Gene Roddenberry (who wrote this episode) for making this more than a clip show; he has actually rebuilt the episode faster, stronger, better!
As to the pilot (called “The Cage”), NBC rejected it citing too much thinking, not enough punching. They also offered Roddenberry a choice: he could have a female first officer (as in the pilot, played by the future Mrs. Roddenberry, Majel Barrett -who in turn became Nurse Chapel AND the voice of every Star Fleet computer, AND Diana Troi’s mother. I think she won) OR the alien Mr. Spock. Female test audiences didn’t like Number One, but they did dig Spock, so Spock stayed and became first officer. The actor Jeffery Hunter who portrayed Pike declined to shoot the second pilot episode requested by NBC and thus was replaced by William Shatner. In addition to all of Shanter’s awesomeness, Kirk is just generally a better character; we don’t get much from Pike, but what we do get opens with him on the verge of resigning, feeling the burden of responsibility to be too much for the men he’s lost and the decisions he’s made. It’s a ballsy choice to open a show with, but also a bit of a downer. The adventurous, swash-buckling nature of the show would have been dragged down by this, somewhat. Anywho, the new pilot was Where No Man Has Gone Before although the actual first episode to be aired was The Man Trap.
And so, because Gene needed time to buy some time to let the special effects crews finish their work on new episodes, we get this fantastic re-purposed pilot: the new bookends are high stakes and engaging, the story on the planet is neat (pulsing head aliens!) and the story is engaging enough to draw into two episodes (this one ends with Kirk’s fate being added to the outcome of the trial).
Will Kirk and Spock die tomorrow? Unlikely. Will we get an epic conclusion to the mutiny that even Bones couldn’t believe? (He argues as much quite passionately, revealing his deep admiration for the man he so often derides, suggesting that Kirk suspect himself or Bones, but never Spock of disloyalty born of passion)
One beep for yes!