Star Trek: The Menagerie – For Years, the Only Way to See the Original Pilot

Written by Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Marc Daniels

For anyone who doesn’t know the story behind the original Star Trek series, the first pilot was scrapped for a variety of reasons by the network. All of the original characters were discarded with the exception of Mr. Spock. However, creator Gene Roddenberry didn’t want to throw away all of the footage from the pilot. He used what he could and re-wrote the story surrounding it. It became the only two-part episode in the original series.

The Enterprise arrives at Starbase 11 after receiving a sub-space message asking them to divert their course by the former Captain of the Enterprise, Christopher Pike. When they arrive, no one seems to know where the signal came from. Commodore Mendez (portrayed by Malachi Throne) insists that it would have been impossible for the former Captain of the Enterprise, Captain Pike, to have sent the signal.

When Captain Kirk (William Shatner) argues that it must have happened, the landing party is taken to see Captain Pike, who is confined to a moving chair due to radiation burns as a result of a training accident. Seemingly more machine than human, he is only able to communicate in simple “yes” and “no” terms using flashes of light on the console of the chair.

Jim, forgetting how well we both know Spock, the simple fact that he’s a Vulcan means that he’s incapable of telling a lie…

Things seem to go a little crazy when Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) abducts Captain Pike, then makes off with the Enterprise, headed for the planet Talos IV. The planet is under strict quarantine for its death sentence applied to any outsider who dares visit. Captain Kirk and Commodore Mendez take off after them in a shuttle, forcing Spock to surrender to him or allow him to die in space.

At Spock’s court martial, three officers are needed. Captain Pike is brought in to be the third officer. Spock gives testimony about the mission he and Captain Pike undertook to Talos IV. This report uses footage from the original Star Trek pilot.

That story had the Enterprise answering a distress call from a scientific expedition which crash-landed on Talos IV eighteen years earlier. Pike becomes distracted by a beautiful woman, Vina (portrayed by Susan Oliver), whom the survivors claim was part of that expedition as a child. The truth is it’s all a ruse by the Talosians, who capture Pike and imprison him in their world beneath the surface of the planet. He is treated like an animal in a zoo, there for observation and experiments. However, as the story unfolds, it appears there is much more to this planet and it’s people.

The Menagerie does a pretty good job with the footage. It’s intertwined well with the original story. Once the story shift to the court-martial there’s little for the current cast to do as much of the time is spent observing the footage, but the lead in to this and the resolution that occurs fits together quite nicely.

Two actors are actually portraying Captain Christopher Pike. Jeffrey Hunter is in the archival footage and Sean Kenney as the character sitting in the chair. There’s enough resemblance between the two that it’s quite believable. Hunter carries the character and really sets what we know about him. Kenney has little to do other than sit in the chair with his mouth open. Not a terribly challenging role.

Unfortunately, due to the way it’s cut together, we don’t get to know too much about the original crew of the ship. They were quite different than our crew, and one of the biggest objections the network had was a female first officer. “Number One” was portrayed by Majel Barrett who was already involved with the show’s creator whom she would later marry. But not much of her character is shown or developed in The Menagerie.

The DVD restoration is complete with CGI improvements on the effects and some of the backgrounds. It takes away a bit from some of the fond memories I have of seeing the show when I was growing up with effects that just weren’t all that convincing. However, it’s nice to see the effort put into cleaning up some of the bigger problems.

The makeup effects in how Captain Pike is depicted are excellent. His burns are convincing and well done. In the footage, there is a green medusa-like female who attempts to seduce Captain Pike. I once heard a story that when they were testing the makeup for these shots, the footage kept coming back with her normal, rather than green. Roddenberry and others working on the pilot couldn’t understand why and tried several times before they finally called the lab that was developing it, where the technician promptly complained about all the work he had to do cleaning up the green hue from the character!

On the Star Trek DVD, this is available with text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda.

The Menagerie was a great way to use footage already shot and tell the story of the Enterprise before Kirk got his hands on it. It’s interesting and there are some terrific moments. My only complaint is that there’s little here that resonates in future episodes at all, either with the characters or events. None of the characters shown in the pilot footage is ever seen or heard from again, which would have been nice if somehow in all the coincidences that seem to occur in all these series they managed to encounter them again once their history had been somewhat developed.

Published by Patti Aliventi

Once upon a time there was this website called Epinions. I wrote thousands of reviews there. I love books, movies, and television; mostly science fiction. I'm a gun-totin', meat-eatin' liberal with libertarian leanings who will voice my opinion.

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