The Great Star Trek Rewatch: The Menagerie, Parts I+II

There was some debate over how to approach two-parters on this blog – should I watch and blog the whole thing as one united whole, or split them over two days in order to properly appreciate the intended effect of the cliffhanger? Ultimately, I’ve decided to take it on a case-by-case basis, but since I’m almost certainly going to have to skip a day of Star Trek in favour of seeing The Martian at the cinema, I’ve decided to roll both parts of The Menagerie into a single blog post.

Back in 1966, The Cage was an unaired pilot, whilst Star Trek with Jim Kirk at the helm was a going concern – albeit one that was running out of money. In times of cash crisis, the clip show is a staple way of filling time without having to shoot (or animate) too much new footage, and so Gene Roddenberry set about carving up the only colour print of The Cage to reframe it as a two-parter. In fact, although I didn’t mention it in that blog, this meant that the version of The Cage I watched had the parts that appeared in The Menagerie in colour, and the rest in black-and-white – although I believe a fully restored colour version does exist.

Anyway, the framing story here is that Captain Pike is now an invalid confined to a wheelchair on Starbase 11, only able to press a button once for yes, and twice for no. In order to help his former commanding officer, Spock fakes a signal that brings the Enterprise to Starbase 11, then concocts an elaborate plan to take Captain Pike back to Talos IV. There’s just one problem – not only is stealing a starship right from under its captain’s nose basically mutiny, but going to Talos IV is the only crime still punishable by death. Thus, whilst the Enterprise’s course can be changed by none other than Spock, the remainder of the journey is taken up by his court martial, which is dominated by a mysterious transmission explaining the event of The Cage – almost as if someone had recorded it. But since starships don’t routinely record their missions – and even if they did, they don’t have special cameras filming exterior shots of the ship – just what is this transmission?

I have to admit, I was somewhat dreading watching The Menagerie, especially a mere two weeks after watching The Cage, but actually, it wasn’t too onerous a task. The framing story was more engaging than I remembered, and rewatching The Cage content made me realise that there were still a couple of things I forgot to write about in my original blog. I’d hardly rate it as my favourite TOS experience, but it was still pretty entertaining. There are even some great one-liners from Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

Living in the future

A few points about procedure, plausibility, and the developing Star Trek universe.

  • I believe this is the first actual reference to Starfleet by that name – up until now we have only heard mention of UESPA, the United Earth Space Probe Agency, which appears to be a linked but not identical organisation in the ongoing Star Trek continuity.
  • Although it might seem a bit implausible that once Spock had locked in a course for the Enterprise, no one could cancel it, I have to admit that, if anyone could achieve this, it would be Spock.
  • If Commodore Mendez never actually boarded either the shuttlecraft or the Enterprise, that means the Talosians were projecting illusions from light-years away, which makes them ever more dangerous than they’re given credit for.
  • In the past couple of episodes, we’ve seen humanity try to be more evolved – Kirk showed compassion to Balok even after Balok threatened to destroy his ship, and penal colonies were said to be about rehabilitation instead of punishment. So it feels a bit jarring that here in this enlightened future, the death penalty still exists in some form – especially for me as a viewer in a country that has abolished it already, in this more primitive and less enlightened century.
  • I’d like to think the technology of the future could rig something up for Captain Pike that would be a bit more sophisticated than mere indications of ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
  • I hadn’t realised that Spock was only a lieutenant commander and not a full commander at this point.
  • This is our first look at the proper dress uniform, with added gold braid.

Back to The Cage

A couple more points from the original footage that I forgot to make before (yes, Star Trek is the series that keeps on giving).

  • It’s awfully easy to cause a highly destructive overload on a laser – it looks like the kind of thing that one might be able to do absent-mindedly. We might mock health and safety in general, but this is one area where their attention is really needed.
  • Once again, we can see that distances weren’t really well-defined right at the start of Star Trek. Pike tells the Talosians that the Enterprise is from a stellar cluster “across the galaxy”, whereas as we all know, the United Federation of Planets (not that it has been referred to as such yet) is largely contained in the Alpha Quadrant of the Milky Way galaxy.
  • The Talosians planned to use Vina to mother a new human race, but given how badly they put her back together after the crash, how likely is it that she would be fertile and able to bear children anyway?
  • How did the Talosians get so many specimens for their menagerie? Although one line of dialogue implied (to me, at least) that they went out and collected them, it was clear that they no longer had spacefaring technology. All they could do was lure species in, and how many actually came by? Also, surely spacefaring species other than humans would have been suitable for the purpose of breeding a slave race. Perhaps not Klingons, for example, but were humans really the only suitable choice?

Summary – The Menagerie: Not as bad as I feared. Even I don’t know how I still have things to say about The Cage, though.

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