Star Trek: The Menagerie

Star Trek Opening TitlesHow does one talk about The Menagerie after writing about The Cage and not feel redundant?  With difficulty.  Luckily we’ll be talking about The Cage on its own very soon, so I can bypass some redundancy.

The Menagerie is the only 2-part story of classic Star Trek and that means of the 100-odd minutes, it consists of about 60 rehashed from The Cage.  The caveat is that no one was going to see The Cage until 1980-something so it’s not really a “rehash”.  So I guess the best way to approach this story is to focus on what’s new and what’s changed enough that it enhances the original story.  First off, I’ve been chronicling the various type of missions the crew is sent on.  In this one, Spock receives a message to divert course to go see his former captain, Christopher Pike.  There’s been a lot of radio chatter about what happened to Chris; it seems that during an inspection tour, he was bombarded by delta rays and he becomes the galaxy’s first Davros.  But no transmission was sent to the Enterprise.  All the evidence points against it.  And Kirk refuses the evidence provided.

Spock once stated that when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.  (Actually he claims an “ancestor of his” once stated that.  That “ancestor” is Sherlock Holmes!)  Well, Kirk needs to read Conan Doyle.  With all the evidence stacked up against Spock, what does Kirk do?  “Adjusts the facts to fit the theory”.  One might think this speaks ill of the captain, but I’d argue that it speaks highly of him for one main reason: his trust in his friend is so strong that he refuses to accept anything but Spock’s word.  He also knows that the penalty for what Spock has done would be incredibly high: mutiny still bears the death sentence, even this far in the future.  So even though it is evident that Kirk is not thinking clearly, I still respect him for it.  That  level of loyalty is impressive and even McCoy, typically at odds with Spock, can’t believe that evidence.  This is the bond that made classic Trek so strong: the three main characters are a force to be reckoned with.

When the footage of Pike’s time begins, we have to laugh at the idea that the “camera” pans into the Enterprise, until we learn we are not seeing “camera” footage, but footage presented by the Talosians; footage that dates back 13 years.  Back then, the Enterprise had a crew of 203.  And it had a doctor on board that was decidedly influential.  Why influential?  Because his time in Pike’s quarters forms the basis for everything that happens for Pike on the planet.  I didn’t realize it when watching The Cage; I realized it while watching this two-parter.  First, Bryce talks to Pike about what happened on Rigel 7.  They reminisce that Pike should have known about the danger when he saw the weapons.  The first of the Talosian’s “Hyper VR” experience with Pike is on Rigel 7, complete with weapons and bad-toothed monster.  While still conversing with Pike, he refers to Pike not being the sort of guy to retire and live on a farm with his horses.  Where do the Talosians setup a nice family-style VR?  A horse farm complete with picnic basket, sugar cubes for the horse, and a lovely blue eyed woman to love him.  Bryce also asks what he’d want to do, be an Orion slave trader?  Oh, would you look at that: Pike is given the chance to own an Orion slave girl.  (It’s a shame we had to wait until Enterprise to really get an idea of what this would be all about!)  Thanks to Bryce, we get action, family and adult entertainment in one hyper-VR special.  Well done!  That’s some doctor.

In other news… to the best of my recollection, this is the first time Starfleet Command is mentioned by name.  None of this “Space Command” which sounds like a second rate SF show.  And no one dies in this story either.  Where this version is superior to The Cage is the ending when Pike leaves.  In The Cage, he sees his double go off with Veena.  In this, it’s his reconstructed body that goes off with Veena instead.  It’s a happier ending and the final shot of the Talosian wishing Kirk pleasant journeys is the sort of thing I love.  I always want the “monsters” to be the proven good guys.   Of course, there’s an issue with what we see on camera.  See, making someone believe something is all well and good but medically the man was Davros’d; crippled beyond science’s ability to heal him.  Even if he returns to Talos IV thinking he’s healed, can he still walk up a hill and keep pace with Veena?  Shouldn’t he be moving really slowly?  Also, let’s talk about Commodore Mendez.  At what point was he replaced with an illusion?  And why contradict Spock so much?  Think about it: during the verdict scene, Pike is needed to break a stalemate.  In fact, the whole cliffhanger hinges on whether Spock can show the rest of the footage.  “Jim.  Don’t stop me.  Don’t let him stop me!”  If Mendez was just an illusion created by the Talosians, why make it so hard for Spock to complete the story?  Why not have him simply say “I want to see more”.  The idea that he had to be contradictory to get Kirk interested makes no sense!  If the Talosians can make someone see or feel something, why not just pique Kirk’s curiosity?  (For that matter, why not make Pike terribly hungry when he refuses to eat in The Cage?)

That all said, this story offered a really sound means to share the pilot with the audience in a way that had not been done before.  I do think there are better episodes, but sometimes, we have to focus on simple storytelling and enjoy it for what it is.  And if there is a secret moral at the end of the story, I think it’s “trust your friends” because Spock does what he does to protect his friend and former Captain, which tells Kirk he’s also in good hands for the future.  We could all use someone in our lives who will have our backs even when we are hit with delta rays.  Here’s to good friends!   ML

The view from across the pond:

Well, we finally know who that weird woman is who keeps popping up at the end of the closing credits. It took a while. Although I am a newcomer to the classic series of Trek, there were a couple of things I was aware of before I watched this story: it is the only two-parter, and it utilises footage from the original pilot episode. I’m not sure quite when that latter piece of information entered my head, but it seems to be something I’ve known for a long time so I suspect it might be one of those anniversary documentaries they showed on BBC2, maybe for the 30th or something. It seems like a logical time to sidestep and take a look at that pilot, so we will do that next week. In the meantime there is little point in doubling up and talking much about the footage Kirk watches at Spock’s trial, so I will confine my comments about this episode to the surrounding narrative.

This could so easily have gone horribly wrong, in the hands of a lesser writer than Gene Roddenberry. It obviously must have been written around the original footage in order to save wasting that effort, and it could so easily have betrayed that fact. I have seen so many American shows over the years that throw in a cheap episode by including flashbacks, and they are always annoying and always blatant in what they are doing, but this is different. The Captain Pike sequences are integrated brilliantly, essential to the story. Maybe I’m slow to figure things out, but the link between his adventure with aliens who can create a fantasy world to live in and his disability didn’t occur to me right until the end, and I thought it was a master-stroke, as was the twist revelation about the Commodore. Actually, those two things pulled the second episode out of the fire, which was heavily reliant on the pilot episode footage and was lacking the impact of the first episode.

And what a first episode it was! We had the Enterprise arriving at a Starbase (another great special effect for the time), Pike turning up as Trek’s answer to Davros before the fact, with horrific injuries (what age group was this made for?) and then Spock’s betrayal of his ship and captain. That worked so well for two reasons. Firstly, Spock engineered the betrayal extremely cleverly, including the faking of Kirk’s voice, so you can see how his fiendish plan would be a success (although the way he accomplishes that, feeding coloured blocks into mahoosive computers with flashing lights was very much of it’s time). Secondly, Spock is the last person anyone would expect to betray them.

That fact gave me pause for thought actually. Just why is it that everyone is so dead set against the possibility of Spock’s betrayal? His adherence to logic is what makes everyone think he cannot betray them, and yet that kind of thinking is wonkier than Spock’s ever-changing eyebrows. He’s a logical being and if logic requires his betrayal that’s what he will do. That makes him more, not less likely to betray Kirk because the one thing that would get in the way of most crew members doing that would be loyalty, and that’s an emotion that he doesn’t possess, or has suppressed, at the very least.

But I thought the main trio of Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley all rose to the occasion brilliantly for this storyline. Although he had the least significant part to play, it was DeForest Kelley (who names their child after a climate change emergency, by the way?) who really impressed me. There was a moment where he realised that he was going to have to arrest Spock. He had no choice. But Spock was in control of every moment of that. It was a tactical surrender, not a defeat, and in his faux-victory, McCoy couldn’t help nervously deferring to Spock even when Spock was under arrest, asking him for advice (“is confinement to quarters enough?”). It was an exceptionally clever moment, brilliantly acted.

Not everything worked quite so well. It’s hard to conceive of a future where the death penalty still exists, and I also found it hard to believe that a Starbase wouldn’t have anything better in terms of transport than a tiny box of a shuttlecraft that runs out of fuel and… this really beggars belief… oxygen, after no time at all. And although the integration of the pilot footage was clever and seamless, and paid off beautifully in the end, it required the viewer to accept the silliness of Pike only being able to communicate with one flash for “yes” and two for “no”, like some 20-questions Davros game. At the very least, if he can make lights flash he can do morse code.

So, looking at the overall picture, was this a successful two-parter?
Flash.

Was it logical, Captain?
Flash flash.

RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Star Trek, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Star Trek: The Menagerie

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Out of all the classic Treks where we see Kirk and/or Spock feel morally and ethically compelled to defy orders and break the rules, The Menagerie stands out as a most profound case for Spock. In the case of going to Talos IV warranting the only death penalty by Star Fleet, we could tell from the start that The Menagerie was going to be a most pivotal story. As usual all the Star Fleet heads for the sake of decency sympathize with the Enterprise crew’s presumption to make exceptions to the rules when the justifications are totally undeniable. And for the opportunity to bring both Captains, Kirk and Pike, into one story, it will be praised even more now that Pike’s original crew shall finally get their due in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

    The crippled Captain Pike is played by Sean Kenney, who looks like Jeffrey Hunter and who also played Lt. DePaul in two future episodes for the first season.

    Thank you both for your most thoughtful Trek reviews on The Menagerie.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A while back I posted the following on a Star Trek FB group, because I guess sometime I just like being argumentative…

    I wonder if at some point Star Trek is going to get around to explaining exactly why Pike was trapped in such horrific circumstances, when in the 23rd century the Federation had already perfected both cloning and cybernetics. Okay, yes, I realize that back in the late 1960s the production team probably couldn’t have imagined those scientific advances, and that it wasn’t stated until later on in TNG and the other subsequent spin-offs that those technologies were commonplace. I also realize that in-story it was necessary to the plot of “The Menagerie” for Pike to be in such a horrible condition and unable to communicate, as well as to disguise the fact that it was a different actor. But I’d still like to see an in-universe explanation for how Pike ended up in such an absolutely awful condition that he couldn’t be helped by any of the advanced medical knowledge or scientific discoveries that were utilized by Starfleet on a daily basis. Yeah, yeah, maybe I’m just overthinking this! Anyone have any thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

    • scifimike70 says:

      Good points, Ben, which have crossed my mind on many occasions throughout Star Trek and Dr. Who. I suppose we all like to be argumentative when it comes to controversy for our favorite shows. Because in all fairness it makes them and our responses all the more interesting. In Pike’s case, one might naturally assume that even for all the advancement with medicine in the Trek future, there can still be some overwhelming challenges. When Pike found relief through the power of illusion, same as Veena, we can accept that he was finally happy which made a great Trek story. So realistically enough, we may understand that even in an advanced future, some physically challenges are essential to help us as a beauty-loving species to appreciate the beauties of life even if we finally attain them in an unexpected way.

      Physical limitations for people as they do today naturally motivate us all to focus more on the limitlessness of the mind, heart and soul, which traditionally makes a wonderful story for SF as well as other genres. If Star Trek can make us appreciate that much, and that there will always be lessons to be learned, not to devalue us but to enrich our senses of human values, then The Menagerie still holds up today as Star Trek at its best. 🖖🏻

      Liked by 2 people

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      Ben, your comment tells me you haven’t been watching Discovery, huh? We don’t get a detailed answer, but we do get one. Discovery undoes a lot of Trek lore in season 1, but by season 2 it started to correct those mistakes. I’m not a spoiler kinda guy, so I can’t really reply to that.
      Let me just say that Pike and Spock are the best parts of Discovery and a new spinoff series has been announced which I am REALLY looking forward to.
      ML

      Liked by 1 person

  3. DrAcrossthePond says:

    Roger – You make one super-good point here: logic/emotion. You say the very reason people don’t think he would betray them is the logic he relies on. But that might be at the heart of the problem: people don’t understand logic. They get logic and emotion confused also. You’re right: loyalty is an emotional response. Logic is a thinking response. If Spock considers (thought) that he should save Pike and there is just cause in doing so, is that logic or emotion? Perhaps a bit of both from our resident half-breed.
    But why that still works for the series is that Spock is the alien and to all the humans, he is very much the question mark. This episode may have illustrated that better than any other so far. It certainly shows a mix of emotional response with thought behind it. It also explains (with a little thinking on the part of the audience) why the humans never consider that Spock might have been lying.
    (Vulcan’s, like Minbari, don’t lie. But there is a distinction between “don’t” and “can’t” that is often misunderstood!) ML

    Liked by 1 person

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