And here’s the first double episode in the history of Star Trek: The menagerie! And let me say that it couldn’t have been a better one because the story is compelling and well developed and it also gives a broad view of the concept of Federation, of space exploration and of Starfleet. Of course everything clearly stems from the desire to reuse the pilot episode The cage which had been rejected by the studios a couple of years before with Pike sitting in the captain’s chair instead of Kirk, but the trick used to do so is really well thought out and the final result doesn’t appear as a mere recycling operation. Here’s the plot.
The USS Enterprise heads to Starbase 11 at the request of Captain Pike. Upon arrival, however, both the beautiful Piper (Julie Parrish) and the commodore José Mendez (Malachi Throne) prove skeptical. Kirk has no reason to doubt Spock’s word on Pike’s request, but when they get to the room where Pike (Sean Kenney) is staying they find him in a vegetative state and only able to communicate “yes” or “no” through an intermittent light in his science-fiction wheelchair (Futurama had a lot of fun with that in Where no fan has gone before). In fact, a short time before he was exposed to delta radiation while heroically saving a bunch of Starfleet cadets. It quickly becomes clear that Spock orchestrated everything to kidnap Captain Pike, under whose command he had served for years before Kirk’s arrival. His intention is to go with him to planet Talos IV. And why acting in this way? Because Talos IV is a forbidden planet, with the death penalty being the punishment for the transgressors, the only case for which the capital punishment is applied in the whole Federation of planets!
So here’s the incredible journey of the USS Enterprise to Talos IV during which we witness the mission in which Pike (played in the pilot images by the unfortunate Jeffrey Hunter, who died very young due to an accident on a film set) went to the planet. How so? It’s shown on a screen during Spock’s trial in which Kirk, Mendez and the crippled Pike are the judges. So on the one hand we have the classic Star Trek’s trial (of which we have seen countless examples, the first that comes to mind is the spectacular The measure of a man, second season of The Next Generation), and on the other hand we enjoy the scenes of the pilot episode. And why was the latter rejected by the producers, I wonder? It was a great episode! Of course there’s the standard beautiful girl who falls in love with /seduces the captain, in this case it’s called Vina (Susan Oliver), there’s plenty of action, and the plot is interesting (so much so that it will be reused, for example, in the third season of The next generation in the episode The most toys). There’s even a woman (Majel Barrett, of course!) as second in command of the Enterprise!
While the first part of The menagerie is mostly made of original material, the second part almost totally shows The cage with the excuse that the intelligent inhabitants of the planet are sending the images and sounds to the Enterprise. Needless to say, in the finale Spock will not be sentenced to death and Captain Pike will be allowed to live the rest of his life in a better condition than he started the episode with thanks to the powers of the aliens of Talos IV (basically, by taking the pill of right color and having his mind staying in the fantasy world of Matrix rather than in the real world).
The episode works great. Luckily I had never seen the pilot episode before, so the mystery behind Spock’s actions and about what happened on Talos IV kept me glued to the screen from start to end. Clearly, some plot tricks don’t work so well (such as the Talosian transmission being TV-like, or the reason for the excessive death penalty in the event of approaching the planet), but it’s easy to forget all that and enjoy this great episode. Ciao!
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Next episode: The Conscience Of The King