There’s Still Something Out There: TOS #15, “The Menagerie, Part I”

In a clever 2-part story within a story that uses footage from the first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage”, Spock hijacks the Enterprise to take the earlier captain of the Enterprise, Captain Pike, to the forbidden planet Talos IV.

 
 

  • This is a landmark episode in a couple ways – the only two-parter in the original Trek series, but more significantly a clever story within a story that allowed the show’s producers to use almost all of the footage from the original pilot, despite its having an almost completely different cast from what became established for the series. (The only common character was Mr. Spock.)
  • On the other hand, while the new envelope story cleverly summons the original pilot footage as something that happened on an Enterprise voyage 13 years before, that voyage, its encounter with aliens who can manufacture illusions, is rife with hoary pulp sci-fi clichés: big-skulled telepathic aliens; sword-wielding barbarians on an exotic planet; a green alien woman who is nevertheless alluring and perhaps irresistible to human males; reptilian monsters with big teeth.
  • Furthermore, the theme as developed by the envelope story undercuts itself. I’ll get to that later, in Part 2.
  • The frame story takes the Enterprise back to Star Base 11, site of the previous episode, “Court Martial”, some 60 days later, given stardates 2950.1 and 3012.4. For once the timing of the ship’s coming and going is plausible.
  • The enhanced graphics are especially effective in the early scenes as our crew beams down to Star Base 11—see image above.
  • The frame story is clever but a tad padded. We get a scene in the starbase “computer center” with Spock skulking about and then nerve-pinching a technician, just so he can insert and play pre-manufacturing voice tapes to direct commands to the Enterprise. Keying off “Court Martial”, however, Spock’s manipulation of such voice messages via various ‘tapes’ (colored pieces of square plastic he inserts into computer panels, as seen is many episodes) is at least consistently plausible. How did he manufacture them? Well, he’s Spock.
  • As Kirk and McCoy wonder about the puzzle of the message that drew the Enterprise to Starbase 11, despite the latter’s insisting such a message was never sent, they start to suspect Spock. McCoy insists that Spock, as a Vulcan, is “incapable of telling a lie.” Really? I’m not sure this is plausible, psychologically, among any social species, which could not endure without routine use of at least ‘white lies’. It’s an example of how Vulcans, and Spock, in this series, are idealized almost past the point of plausibility…representing some kind of perfect human that could never exist in the real world.
  • It’s curious that the approach to the planet Talos IV (site of the Enterprise visit 13 years ago) is “the only death penalty left on the books.” Because first, that the Federation still has a death penalty at all; and second, because what we find out about Talos IV is really so so so dangerous? Perhaps…
  • Trek physics: As Spock essentially hijacks the Enterprise and heads it for Talos IV, Kirk, left back on Starbase 11, follows in a shuttlecraft, just like the Galileo 7, along with the base Commodore Mendez (Malachi Throne). So… does the shuttlecraft have warp drive? Surely the Enterprise is using warp to transit from the starbase to Talos IV, another star system presumably many light years distant. The shuttle has trouble keeping up on its “ion engine power,” suggesting not. How then could the shuttle have expected to catch up the Enterprise? (In later episodes, e.g. 2nd season’s “Metamorphosis”, the implication was that the shuttle did have warp drive, to transit from one star system to another.)
  • There’s a slight glimpse of Spock’s quarters in one scene here, but revealing very little – nothing like the full exposure we get in 2nd season’s “Amok Time”.
  • As Kirk and Mendez arrive aboard Enterprise, and Spock has himself arrested, and then requests immediate court martial… the screen comes on in the courtroom (a rearranged Enterprise briefing room), and we see the footage of the first Trek pilot “The Cage”, starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike, with John Hoyt as the ship’s Doctor Boyce, and Majel Barrett (later Nurse Chapel in the series cast) as the ship’s 2nd in command, “Number One”.
  • In the opening moments of this scene, showing the bridge crew responding to odd signals, we have Number One say, “No, it’s something else. There’s still something out there.” That second line has, for some reason, become embedded in my mind as an iconic line. There’s still something out there.
  • Trek astronomy: As Spock, on the 13-year-ago Enterprise, reviews records of the earlier Earth expedition out here, we see a photo of the Pleiades – a well-known astronomical star cluster – as he talks about the Vega colony. We’ve just heard about this Enterprise’s encounter at Rigel VII. Never mind the Pleiades photo, this is the first of several, I think, infelicities of interstellar astronomy committed by Star Trek. The show wasn’t as ignorant about space and astronomy as other TV shows, e.g. Lost in Space, but the show was casual in its use of familiar star names without bothering about the plausibility of where those stars actually lie in the galaxy. That is: Rigel is a star in the constellation Orion, a very large star some 863 light years from Earth… and Vega is a star in the constellation Lyra, a smaller star nearly as bright as Rigel because it’s much closer to Earth at only 25 light years – but in virtually the *opposite* direction from Earth as Rigel. In no way is it plausible for the Enterprise, having fought a battle at Rigel, to head for recovery at Vega. (Why not just stop off at Earth?) This kind of thing happened again and again, every time the show resorted to using familiar star names.
  • In the next scene, ship’s doctor Boyce visits Captain Pike’s cabin, as the captain expresses stress and regret – as Kirk would do in “Balance of Terror” – and Boyce fixes him a… martini! It’s long been taken for granted, but it’s interesting how Trek assumed that alcohol would be present 300 years from now. Though not tobacco. (Apparently IIRC there was a push by a certain NBC advertiser to have the crew the Enterprise smoke cigarettes, but Roddenberry nixed that.)
  • As Boyce says, serving Pike the drink, in a famous line: “Sometimes a man will tell his bartender things he’ll never tell his doctor.”
  • Anachronisms: in one scene on the bridge a report comes literally printed out, out of a slot; in the transporter room, the junior technician, an Asian, is wearing eyeglasses (though he doesn’t in a later scene).
  • It’s mentioned in these scenes from the original pilot that the Enterprise had only 203 crewmen. The premise changed.
  • Spock’s character had a ways to become crystallized; as the landing party wanders around the planet Talos IV, they find a plant with bluish leaves, and when Spock touches them, he smiles.
  • And when the landing party finds the survivors’ camp, one of the junior officers brags about how quickly their new ships can travel: “The time barrier’s been broken!”. Perhaps a consideration about how technology changed over 13 years; more likely another premise that changed.
  • And then the young woman among the survivors, Vina, tempts Captain Pike with the ‘secret’ of how they survived – leading to Pike’s capture by the alien Talosians. This is the first appearance of the famously recognizable “Vina’s theme”, a sultry vocal that would later be repurposed in many guises.
  • At this point Part 1 ends.
  • Music, for “The Menagerie, Part I”, tracked. But much music was kept from the pilot “The Cage”, including “Vina’s theme”. More notes about music tracks to come in a later post.
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