The Cage was the very first Star Trek pilot submitted to NBC in 1965. Sadly the pilot episode was rejected by NBC for being “too cerebral.” We all know the rest of the story. Actress Lucille Ball, the owner of Desilu Studios where the pilot was filmed, put pressure on the NBC executives to give Gene Roddenberry another chance. They did, he filmed another pilot, it was accepted and the rest is history.
For me The Cage has a Star Trek: The Next Generation vibe to it. I had read once that TNG was closer to Rodenberry’s vision for Star Trek because he didn’t have the interference he had had on the Original Series. The Cage also had more of a “Forbidden Planet” 1950s vibe to me and that is understandable given that Forbidden Planet was an early influence on Star Trek. The Cage reminds me of TNG because Captain Christopher Pike, played by Jeffery Hunter, reminds me a lot of Captain Picard in terms of temperament. Although Kirk would become more of a man of action, both Pike and Picard are more intellectual.
The plot is pretty basic. Pike is weary and worn after several missions that have not gone as well as planned. He has lost lives and is questioning his role as captain of the USS Enterprise. His next mission is answering a distress call from the Planet Talus IV where an earth vessel had crashed years before. However, the entire landing party, except for the female, Vina, was all an illusion and soon Pike is captured by the Talosians and thrown into a zoo like setting.
In order to both control him and tempt him into staying the Talosians are able to control his mind by placing life-like images of both pleasure and pain into his mind. Pike doesn’t want to be trapped in a cage and rebels. The Talosians realize that humans will not be a good addition to their menagerie because of human beings desire not to be enslaved. Pike leaves and Vina decides to stay after learning that her youth and beauty was also an illusion.
This is a very enjoyable episode. It is sad that NBC rejected it. On the other had, if NBC had accepted the Cage the original series, and the history of the Star Trek franchise would be very different. So in many ways I am happy things turned out the way they did. The only aspect of this episode that survived the recreation that lead to the series was Mr. Spock. Majel Barret, who would play Nurse Chapel in the series, and become Mrs. Roddenberry, is the only other actor to survive the transition. Barret played Number One, the second in command, which is another reason why The Cage reminds me of TNG.
Spock was a character that NBC also wanted to be rid of because of his sinister look which they feared would offend some viewers However, Roddenberry put his foot down to save the character Spock and for that we are all eternally grateful, for Spock became not just a much beloved character in Star Trek but of all Science Fiction. Spock is truly iconic. Female actors were used to portray the bulbous headed Talosians and this look also has become classic and iconic look in science fiction.
This pilot episode was woven into the two part episode The Menagerie later in the series so I will have more to say about it on my review of that episode. I give this episode a solid A+ rating.