Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “The Cage”

“The Cage”
Written by Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Robert Butler
Season 0, Episode 1 (unaired pilot)
Production episode 6149-01
Original air date: October 4, 1988
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s log: We see the Enterprise flying through space, and the camera goes into the bridge, where Captain Christopher Pike sits in the command chair, Number One and Jose Tyler at the navigation console in front of him, and some dude in a blue shirt standing to his right not doing anything in particular. Folks are also at the rear consoles, and Spock walks up to stand beside Pike. They’ve detected something, but they’re not sure what it is, heading straight for them. It turns out to be a radio wave—an old-style distress signal that was designed to cause the type of interference they detected to get attention.

The call came from a ship that crashed in the Talos system. Spock checks, and the distress call comes from the S.S. Columbia, a ship that disappeared eighteen years ago—Tyler points out that a radio wave would take that long to get from Talos to where they are. But there’s no indication that they survived the crash, or that even if they did, they survived for eighteen years. Pike orders Number One to continue to the Vega Colony to take care of their own sick and wounded after the battle they had on Rigel VII.

Star Trek, The Cage

Pike goes to his quarters, and summons Dr. Boyce. Boyce concurs with Pike’s not responding to the distress call, and also mixes Pike a drink in order to loosen him up to talk about what’s really bothering him. The captain blames himself for what happened on Rigel VII, and admits to being sick and tired of the responsibility of command. He’s considering not just taking leave the way Boyce has been bugging him to, but resigning and maybe going back home or going out and doing something else. There’s a whole galaxy out there for him—but Boyce thinks that there’s only one place for Pike.

Spock reports that there’s another message indicating survivors. Pike reads the transcript of the message that is provided by the printer (!), and then decides to check it out.

Star Trek, The Cage

Yeoman Colt hands him reports he asked for, which doesn’t thrill him, as he’s not used to having a woman on the bridge, thus reminding us all that this was filmed in 1964. When Number One shoots him a look, he says that she’s “different, of course,” but does not elaborate, which is probably for the best.

When they settle into orbit of Talos IV, Spock and some other dude bring him more printouts (!) showing that it’s got an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere and the gravity is 0.9 Gs. Tyler is picking up metal fragments that could be part of a crashed ship. Pike leads a six-person landing party, leaving Number One in charge of the ship, saying he wants to leave his most experienced officer behind, just in case. Pike, Spock, Tyler, Boyce, and two random dudes put on spiffy gray jackets and beam down to a canyon. They find plants that vibrate and make a nifty humming noise that stops when you hold them still. When Spock realizes this, he grins widely.

Star Trek, The Cage

One of the random dudes spots a settlement filled with a bunch of grizzled old men—and one really hot blonde. The latter is identified as Vina, whose parents are dead and who was born right when the ship crashed.

Even as introductions are performed, we see that they are under observation by aliens with big-ass heads (or, based on the makeup design, big ass-heads).

Pike reports to Number One, ordering her to prepare to beam up the survivors and their stuff. Vina says that Pike seems healthy, “a prime specimen.” At the same time, Boyce reports that the survivors are way too healthy for people who crash landed. The survivors explain that there’s a secret to their health, and Vina takes Pike off to show him.

Star Trek, The Cage

Suddenly Vina and the colonists and the settlement all disappear, the big-headed aliens kidnap Pike and take him underground. The rest of the landing party fires on the doorway, but it has no effect. Spock reports back to Number One saying that there were no survivors and the captain is missing.

Pike wakes up to find himself in a cage. (Gee, what a great title.) Other cages have alien creatures in them. Two Talosians approach and reveal themselves to be telepathic. They also sound almost bored as they predict Pike’s every response, though they find him adaptable if somewhat limited in intelligence. To Pike’s chagrin, they say that the “experiment” will begin soon.

Star Trek, The Cage

Back on the Enterprise, Spock briefs Number One, followed by Boyce expressing great apprehension and caution in dealing with the Talosians. Spock believes that any attempt to use force to get to the below-ground dwelling of the Talosians would just provoke their ire, but Tyler thinks they have to do all they can to rescue Pike. Number One agrees with Tyler and orders engineering to prepare to transmit ship’s power to a laser cannon.

The Talosians observe Pike trying to find a way to bust out of his cage, and then they create the illusion of Rigel VII, the site of the crew’s recent battle—except this time, instead of his fellow crew members, it’s just him and Vina. A huge warrior attacks with an axe and shield, just like he did two weeks ago—but Pike is curious as to why he’s seeing Vina again. He’s also not interested in being an animal performing for his supper, and he won’t fight the Rigellian.

Star Trek, The Cage

But he can’t very well not defend himself, and so he grabs a mace and shield and fights. However, he continues to question the scenario and Vina. Eventually, Pike kills the Rigellian—

—and then he winds up back in the cell, but this time Vina is with him. Vina tries to get him to play along with the illusion, to have any dream he wants, and she can be any woman he wants. Pike, though, keeps questioning, probing, trying to figure out what the Talosians are after.

Number One and a landing party beam down with a huge laser cannon, but it has no effect on the outcropping through which the Talosians kidnapped Pike. Or, as Boyce points out, it doesn’t appear to have an effect. They have no way of knowing if it’s an illusion.

Star Trek, The Cage

Vina offers to answer at least some questions if he’ll then join her in some dream or other. She admits that they can’t actually make Pike do anything, but they can make him see and feel anything. Thousands of centuries ago, the Talosians fought a horrible war, destroying the surface. The survivors retreated underground and developed their mental powers, but it became almost like a narcotic. They can’t repair the machines left behind, they just observe other species for entertainment.

Their conversation is interrupted by Vina being punished by the Talosains and disappearing. Pike is still not convinced that she’s real, though she insists she’s as human as he is. Later, they feed Pike with a liquid protein concoction, which the Keeper says can appear to be any food he wishes. When he threatens a hunger strike, the Keeper makes him think he’s in the middle of a fire.

Star Trek, The Cage

After he drinks the protein gunk, he jumps at the transparency, at which the Keeper flinches. That gets Pike’s attention: sudden violent emotions can catch them off guard. Pike tries to question the Keeper on that subject, but the Talosian ignores his queries and instead confirms that the S.S. Columbia really did crash on Talos IV, but Vina was the only survivor. They’re obviously trying to pair the two of them up—Vina actually refers to them as “Adam and Eve” at one point—and then Pike finds himself in a park near his hometown of Mojave. He and Vina have ridden horses—Pike recognizes one horse as Tango, one of his horses from home—to the park and have a picnic. Pike refuses to give into the illusion—despite Vina protesting that she gets headaches when he talks strangely—and keeps hammering away, trying to learn the truth of why he’s in “a menagerie, a cage” (what great ideas for titles!). Do they need a new race of humans to operate the machinery they no longer understand? A colony of slaves? Or what?

Vina finally admits they can’t get through primitive emotions, but you can’t sustain them long enough for it to matter. She also admits that they picked Pike over everyone else in the landing party because he matches her own notions of an attractive man—at which point he finally admits that he thinks she’s hot, too.

Star Trek, The Cage

She also speculates that the reason why he hasn’t embraced the illusions so far is because they’re all things he’s already done. So the Talosians send them into a new illusion, where he’s an Orion trader, sitting with two incredibly skeevy-looking dudes and Vina is a green-skinned dancing girl.

The whole situation makes Pike extremely nervous, and he gets up and walks away quickly, going into a back room that turns out to be a cave—but then the doorway disappears, and he’s trapped in the cave. Then Vina appears, giving him a very lascivious smile.

Star Trek, The Cage

Number One, Spock, Tyler, Colt, and the two random dudes are attempting to beam down into the Talosian underground settlement. There is a real risk that their readings of that settlement are an illusion, and they will beam into solid rock.

It turns out the readings are accurate, but only Number One and Colt actually dematerialize. They appear in Pike’s cage, alongside Pike and Vina. Vina is pissed, crying, “No, let me finish!” Both Colt’s and Number One’s weapons and communicators are dead. Number One also reveals that there was a woman named Vina on the Columbia’s manifest—but she was an adult on the ship.

The Keeper reveals that the other two were brought to give him alternate choices, since he has rejected Vina. Pike keeps trying to fill his mind with negative thoughts of anger and fury, while the Keeper reveals the two women’s innermost thoughts and fantasies, to their huge embarrassment.

Star Trek, The Cage

Spock decides that discretion is the better part of valor, and orders the Enterprise to leave orbit. But that’s when all the ship’s systems go completely dead—except the library computer, which starts going crazy active, downloading information at a great rate.

While the prisoners sleep, the Keeper tries to sneak into the cage to grab the lasers, but Pike wakes up and starts to strangle the Talosian. Pike then fires one of the dead lasers at the transparency—and then aims it at the Keeper, gambling that it did blow a hole in the cage, but the Talosians are preventing them from seeing it. Rather than let Pike test the theory on the Keeper’s head, the illusion falls, and they all escape through the hole.

Star Trek, The Cage

They go to the surface to discover that the laser cannon did, in fact, blast the crap out of the outcropping. However, the Keeper wanted Pike on the surface anyhow so he can do his Adam thing with the Eve of his choice. Pike gives a counteroffer: let Number One and Colt go, and he’ll stay with Vina.

But Number One takes door #3 and sets her laser to overload. Better to die than live as slaves. Pike lets Vina and the Keeper go back underground where it’s safe. But Vina decides to stay with them, figuring if they have one human, they might try again.

However, the Talosians’ download of the library computer reveals a hatred of captivity even when it’s pleasant and benevolent. Their violence makes them useless, even though they have a greater adaptability than any other they’ve captured. So they’ll let Pike and the others go, even though it condemns them.

The Enterprise becomes active again, and first Colt then Number One are beamed back. On the surface, Pike asks Vina to come along, but then the Talosians drop the illusion of her appearance. She isn’t a beautiful young blonde, she’s a disfigured old woman. She was badly wounded in the crash, but they had no point of reference for how to put her back together. And since this was filmed in 1964, a disfigured person can’t possibly function in society.

Star Trek, The Cage

The Keeper then reveals that she will not only get back the illusion of youth and beauty, but also an illusory Pike to keep her company.

Pike beams back to the Enterprise, informs Number One and Colt that Vina won’t be coming with, and he respects her decision.

Boyce thinks Pike looks a hundred percent better. Colt hands Pike a report and asks who would have been Eve, at which point Number One orders her off the bridge. Both Tyler and Boyce waggle their eyebrows at Pike, earning them, respectively, a stern look and a complaint that ship’s doctors are all dirty old men, and then the Enterprise heads back out into space.

Star Trek, The Cage

Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: When they go faster than light, Pike addresses intership letting everyone know where they’re going, and describes their “time warp” as “factor 7.” Also the theme music plays and stars are superimposed over the bridge. It’s all very fancy.

Oh, and the computer readouts are provided either via printer, which is hilariously low-tech, or via funky slideshow on the rear screens, which Spock advances via a hand-gesture, which is more appropriately high-tech. Ah, the sixties…

Fascinating: Spock is never referred to as an alien at any point, and he could just as easily be a human with funny eyebrows and weird ears—maybe the product of genetic engineering. He shows no signs of the suppressed emotions that will become the character’s hallmark, as that particular mode was taken over by Number One. Instead, he comes across as haughty, talking about being swatted like flies and materializing in rock in a very high handed manner, and being all pouty when Pike refuses to go respond to the distress signal initially. Plus he constantly refers to himself as “Mr. Spock.”

Star Trek, The Cage

Oh, and we get the beginning of shouty Spock with his plaintive bellow of “THE WOMEN!” when only Number One and Colt beam down.

I’m a doctor not an escalator: We have in Boyce the first draft of Leonard McCoy. Basically, Boyce comes across as a curmudgeonly grandfather, whereas McCoy would be more of a curmudgeonly uncle. Still, we see Roddenberry’s notion of the ship’s doctor as being an important advisor get its first workout here, as Boyce is at the center of things alongside Number One and Spock.

Ahead warp one, aye: It’s unclear whether or not Number One or Tyler is the helmsman and who’s the navigator, or if Tyler does both, since all Number One does at her console is say that all decks are ready (she’s still obviously the first officer, since she does all the first officer things, but she doesn’t seem to do anything at her console).

Star Trek, The Cage

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: The Talosians reveal to Pike that both Number One and Colt think he’s dreamy. To Pike’s credit, he doesn’t respond to this (the women do, with obvious embarrassment and outrage), not even when Colt inappropriately asks him about it later.

Channel open: “Sometimes a man’ll tell his bartender things he’ll never tell his doctor.”

Boyce after handing Pike a martini out of his medical bag.

Welcome aboard: Arguably, everyone here was a star and everyone was a guest star. Jeffrey Hunter, whose other credits are entirely in feature films, was cast in the role of Pike, and he evinced no interest in returning for the second pilot, preferring movies to television. Majel Barrett and Leonard Nimoy were the first ones cast, as Number One and Spock, respectively, by Gene Roddenberry, who worked with both on The Lieutenant. John Hoyt plays Boyce, a role for which DeForest Kelley was considered (and would eventually get when cast as McCoy for “The Corbomite Maneuver”), and Susan Oliver plays Vina, a role for which Yvonne Craig was considered (Craig would be the only other person to play an Orion woman on TOS, in “Whom Gods Destroy”). Laurel Goodwin and Peter Duryea round out the credited cast as Colt and Tyler, respectively.

Both Roddenberry and director Robert Butler independently came up with the notion of casting women as the Talosians, but dubbing them with male voices. The Keeper was played by Meg Wyllie, with Malachi Throne providing the voice.

Trivial matters: This script was developed from one of three stories that Gene Roddenberry wrote for NBC to consider for the Star Trek concept. The other two eventually became “Return of the Archons” and “Mudd’s Women” in the first season. It was done as a 90-minute episode at the suggestion of co-producer Herb Solow, so that NBC could air it as a standalone television movie if it didn’t go to series and make back some money. Roddenberry also considered doing the story as a movie, adding an opening sequence with the Columbia’s crash.

Roddenberry’s original title was “The Cage,” and then it became “The Menagerie” in production, but the story has been identified as “The Cage” ever since the latter title was used for the first-season two-parter that used footage from this episode (which also scotched Roddenberry’s movie plans).

Star Trek, The Cage

The captain’s original name was Robert April, but changed to Christopher Pike just prior to filming (and was James Winter in one draft). Later, the animated episode “The Counter-Clock Incident” and several novels (most notably Final Frontier and Best Destiny by Diane Carey) and comics (most notably The Early Voyages from Marvel and Countdown to Darkness from IDW) would identify April as Pike’s predecessor as captain of the Enterprise.

Harvey P. Lynn, a physicist with the RAND Corporation, served as Roddenberry’s unofficial scientific advisor for the script, correcting many scientific howlers in his first draft (like having Talos IV be “on the edge of the universe”) and making other suggestions (like saying that Talos IV’s gravity was lighter than that of Earth, based on how the Talosians were described).

This was Jeffrey Hunter’s only appearance as Pike, not counting the reused footage in “The Menagerie,” but Pike would be played again onscreen by Sean Kenney (as the badly injured Pike in “The Menagerie”) and by Bruce Greenwood in the 2009 Star Trek and in Star Trek Into Darkness.

Star Trek, The Cage

Pike has been featured in many many many works of tie-in fiction (in some of them as captain of the Enterprise and featuring folks who appear in this episode), some of which are the novels Vulcan’s Glory by D.C. Fontana, Where Sea Meets Sky by Jerry Oltion, Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno, The Children of Kings by Dave Stern, and the forthcoming Child of Two Worlds by Greg Cox, as well as parts of The Rift by Peter David and Legacy by Michael Jan Friedman; the short stories “A Private Anecdote” by Landon Cary Dalton (Strange New Worlds), “Sins of the Mother” by S.D. Perry (The Lives of Dax), and “Conflicting Natures” by Jerry Oltion (Enterprise Logs); and the comic books Star Trek #61 by Steven H. Wilson & Rod Whigham, Alien Spotlight: Orions by Scott & David Tipton & Elena Casagrande, and Captain’s Log: Pike by Stuart Moore & J.K. Woodward and the comic book series Early Voyages written by Dan Abnett & Ian Edginton.

The DS9 episode “Tears of the Prophets” will establish that Starfleet named a medal of honor after Pike, and that show’s “Family Business” will establish that a city on Cestus III is named after Pike.

Because Malachi Throne appeared as Commodore Mendez in the framing sequence of “The Menagerie,” the Keeper’s voice was redubbed in the footage from “The Cage.” The restored version of the episode keeps the voice used in “The Menagerie.”

This pilot was rejected by NBC for several reasons, the most famous being their note that it was “too cerebral.” In addition, NBC expressed issues with several of the actors, including Majel Barrett, whom they didn’t think had the gravitas to be the second lead, and also with the character of Spock. Roddenberry stuck to his guns and kept Spock (an obviously wise choice) and made it up to Barrett by casting her in the recurring role of Nurse Chapel later on.

The green-skinned Orion woman version of Vina proved quite popular, and Orion women with their heightened sexuality were seen again onscreen in “Whom Gods Destroy” and Enterprise’s “Bound.”

Star Trek, The Cage

A military hat is seen in Pike’s quarters, on top of what looks like a very contemporary television set. Those hats would be seen again in the 2009 Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, worn by Starfleet personnel at the Academy and Starfleet HQ.

With Leonard Nimoy’s death last week, the only member of the credited cast who’s still alive is Laurel Goodwin, who played Yeoman Colt.

To boldly go: “She has illusion and you have reality.” The DNA of Star Trek is very much present in this story. You’ve got aliens who appear to be totally evil, but who have a reason for their meanness and have a certain tragedy about them. You’ve got humanity doing everything it can to not give in to imprisonment. Both of these would become Trek staples.

I also particularly am pleased with the fact that this is not the maiden voyage of the Enterprise, that we’re getting them in medias res. In fact, their recent encounter at Rigel VII gets a great deal of play (Spock sometimes walks with a limp, and Tyler has a bandage on his hand). The Enterprise seems more impressive if it’s full of experienced folk and has been out there a while.

What’s especially fascinating is that Pike never once gives in to the illusion. He fights the Rigellian because the warrior attacks him, but he only defends himself, never once going on the offensive. His participation in the picnic is limited to feeding sugar cubes to the image of Tango, a beloved horse, and his response to the Orion scenario is to run away very fast.

Star Trek, The Cage

And yet, Pike doesn’t really come across as all that heroic. It’s hard to imagine any other Trek captain refusing to answer a distress signal, even one as archaic as the Columbia’s. He’s distant and emotionless—even his complaints to Boyce about how tired he is don’t come across as particularly convincing. (Neither does his repetitive attempts at thinking angry thoughts at the Keeper, but that actually is a plot point, as the Keeper is totally unaffected and Vina keeps telling him it’s a lost cause.) He does, at least, come across as world-weary, but despite his words to Boyce at the end, he doesn’t seem any less so at the end.

Boyce also comes across as world-weary, but he makes it work for him. His advice to Pike is sound, and his advice and commentary throughout the episode is consistently canny. Note should also be made of the amazing performance Susan Oliver gives here, playing, in essence, more than half a dozen roles, and making them distinctive and compelling.

Star Trek, The Cage

Ultimately, the episode raises lots of questions that have been left to tie-in fiction to examine. Why does Number One suppress her emotions? How does Pike feel about having his first officer and yeoman’s sexual feelings for him exposed? How do Number One and Colt feel about serving with him after that revelation?

It’s probably for the best that Jeffrey Hunter’s oh-so-stiff Pike didn’t stay on as the show’s lead. Majel Barrett’s Number One also had her awkward moments, but some excellent ones, too, notably her very calm, cool declaration that it’s wrong to take humans as slaves, as she sets her laser pistol to overload. It’s only a pity that that character wasn’t kept, as a woman as second-in-command of the Enterprise would’ve been amazing. (Of course, given how women were often treated on TOS, maybe it wouldn’t have been…) And just in general, the episode is terribly sodden and humorless. Boyce’s bartender line and his dirty-old-man bit at the end are the only things that even come close to a moment of levity, and I suspect NBC might not have complained about how cerebral it was if it wasn’t so damn heavy.

Warp factor rating: 6

Next week:Where No Man Has Gone Before

Keith R.A. DeCandido neither wishes to deal in Orion animal women, nor fight Rigellian warriors, but going to a picnic on horseback sounds cool…


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