Star Trek TOS s01e03 Where No Man Has Gone Before

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The second pilot, and first episode filmed featuring William Shatner as “James R. Kirk”, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” very nearly captures all the elements that make up Star Trek.  Noticeably absent from the mix, and to the detriment of the show’s chemistry, is Dr. Leonard McCoy whose brash demeanor and unabashed emotional displays serve to counterbalance Spock’s otherworldy logical exterior. Not to say the episode is without merit, far from it. There are some great performances and it’s far more cohesive than the first pilot under Jeffrey Hunter‘s Christopher Pike. But the episode feels incomplete. The chief medical officer in this episode is Mark Piper played by Mark Fix, a veteran of Westerns and Frontier movies. His inclusion is demonstrative of the original pitch of Star Trek as “Wagon Train” in space. His performance comes across as a ‘wise old man’ there to dish out advice to the young adventuring protagonist, but without being integral to the action, the way McCoy would prove to be time and again. He is calm and grandfatherly, much like Dr. Boyce in the first pilot. This doesn’t work on two levels. The Enterprise is on a mission of exploration. It is dangerous and they are equipped for war. Pitting this doctor as the human side of Kirk’s moral compass would be like seating a social worker next to the Captain’s chair. (No disrespect to Mirina Sirtis. Some of my best friends are social workers)

The "R." stands for "Retcon".

The “R.” stands for “Retcon”.

There’s a lot In this episode that comes across as clunky. It is obvious from the start that they were still finding their feet. Yet the episode remains a favourite for many with some iconic moments and a truly memorable villain in Gary Mitchell. While they had not yet found their feet, the foundation on which they stood was solid and they were clearly poised to create magic.

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Star Trek TOS s01e00 The Cage (Pilot)

Probably the most remarkable thing about watching the original pilot that spawned what is undoubtedly the most recognizable and important franchise in science fiction history is not what is different from the series that ensued, but what was already in place.

With some exceptions to the costuming, and a few subtle differences on the bridge, nearly everything about the look and feel of Star Trek was in place from the get-go. From the costumes, to the insignias, the sound effects, and general sense of awe and wonder at space travel, The Cage immerses you in a world which would eventually become familiar.

That said, the differences are fascinating, and we’ll address those shortly.

Probably the first thing I noticed watching The Cage was the quality of the writing. This was something new. There was no analogue to it in its day, other than Wagon Train, but in space. This was the pilot, and therefore a pitch, so the writers pulled out all the stops to immerse you and captivate you right from the start. The opening scene is rife with tension. The bridge crew are on the edge of their seats, on a collision course for… something.

That ‘something’ turns out to be a radio wave. What better way to convey exactly how far in the future the setting is than by presenting the prevalent bastion of communication technology that had reshaped and defined mass media over the previous half-century as being such an obsolete relic that it nearly defies recognition.

That radio wave happens to be a distress signal, which Captain Christopher Pike chooses to ignore.

“Let’s continue on to the Vega colony and take care of our own sick and injured first.”

For an impassioned Star Trek viewer, this move was shocking. It seems to bridge crew would agree, as they exchanged knowing glances. Since when does a Captain of the Enterprise not investigate a distress signal, when there could be survivors? This is perhaps the most un-Star Trek like moment in the episode. It becomes clear very quickly that Christopher Pike is not James T. Kirk.

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