And now we get to The Menagerie (Original air dates: 11-17-66 and 11-24-66). The drink this time is a gin Martini (in recognition of the line, "who wants a warm Martini?").
This episode an unusual one. It's the only 2 part episode done for the series. While future Trek series would expand the multi-part format further (DS9, in particular), having a 2 parter was pretty new at the time. According to what I have read, this one was come up with due to the fact that production was falling behind at the time and NBC needed more content. Roddenberry got creative and reused the old rejected pilot, "The Cage" and built a frame story around it with the current cast. I have to wonder if this kind of thing had ever been done like this before. The effective reuse of another episode shows some very original thinking.
The situation in which this episode was produced could have easily resulted in a throw-away show to get around the problem. One Next Generation episode (end of season 2, IIRC) did something like this, but the result was extreme lameness. Truly a fine example of a weak clip show. This episode is anything but a tossed-off effort. Roddenberry constructs a compelling story that not only integrates the material from the old pilot, but even manages to further develop the Spock character. This episode really builds the foundation of Spock's enduring loyalty to his captain(s). The drama of the court martial is well paced and really builds the mystery of the Talos IV world. Kirk gets some good scenes in this one where he grapples with Spock's mutinous actions. Shatner manages a good mix of anger and hurt betrayal when he confronts Spock. The Mendez character makes a good foil for Kirk and serves to keep the story moving.
The core material used from "The Cage" is well-chosen. I've seen the uncut version of the episode and they seemed to have picked the more significant portions of the show. I won't spend a lot of time talking about this material since we're going to review "The Cage" later. One of the things that is fun about this episode is being able to compare the original cast to the more familiar one. At first glance, Jeffrey Hunter's Captain Pike is different from the familiar Kirk, but his character is actually more similar than I used to think. If Shatner has an old-school style of acting, Hunter is even more in this camp. It isn't really fair to compare Roddenberry's first captain character attempt, but Pike always comes off as a bit stiff. One of the characters I always enjoy from this early effort is the doctor, a proto-McCoy, if you will.
So, this one overall holds up very well for me and is perhaps better than I remember.
And now Eric's take:
Before I start this review, I should note that I have a cat in my lap
â€śhelpingâ€? me, so this will no doubt be the best review Iâ€™ve doneâ€¦
When I was much younger, the only way I could see Star Trek was to
catch it in reruns. (Yes, I lived in the time before VCRs.) Of
course, there was no way to control which episodes were shown, so I
was particularly thrilled when I got to see â€śThe Menagerie.â€? I think
this was because I saw it as a chance to step back into the future
history of Star Trek, where thereâ€™s an earlier captain and crew
(except for Spock) and the Enterprise is visibly different. Besides
that, itâ€™s just a good episode: Itâ€™s unique among original Star Trek
episodes, and it features not just one, but two wonderfully
imaginative science fiction stories where we get to see some great
â€śThe Menagerieâ€? is unique because it is the only two-part episode in
the original series, and as far as I know, it is the only television
show that has managed to televise an unaired pilot as an integral
part of a different episode. The unaired pilot I refer to is, of
course, â€śThe Cage,â€? Gene Roddenberryâ€™s first pilot that was rejected
by the NBC studio execs as being too â€ścerebralâ€? and not having enough
action. Iâ€™ve never been able to understand these criticisms, but I
admire Roddenberryâ€™s ingenuity in getting his original pilot aired
(indirectly at least) over the protests of the studio pinheads. Of
course, the official story is that there was a budget crunch, so
Roddenberry had to use whatever footage he had to his best advantage.
Hence, a two-part episode that incorporated an edited version of â€śThe
So from a production standpoint, â€śThe Menagerieâ€? is unique, but what
really makes it a standout episode among original Trek episodes is
that both â€śThe Cageâ€? and â€śThe Menagerieâ€? are excellent examples of
imaginative science fiction. I wonâ€™t go into an analysis of the â€śThe
Cageâ€? right now, (Doc and I will address it once we finish reviewing
all three seasons of classic Trek) but there is much to say about
â€śThe Menagerie.â€? First, it is remarkably clever. It is a good story
in its own right, but Roddenberry, who wrote the episode, managed to
work most of â€śThe Cageâ€? into the narrative without it seeming
contrived. There is also a nice element of suspense: Why is Spock so
intent on taking Captain Pike to Talos IV? Why would the Talosians
want a human who is a complete invalid? And will Spock be executed
for violating General Order 7?
These are all interesting questions, but I feel obliged to voice one
other nagging question Iâ€™ve never been able to reconcileâ€”why didnâ€™t
Spock simply do a mind meld on Pike to find out what he wants and
what heâ€™s thinking? Someone once suggested, in a fan magazine, that
it was because too many of Pikeâ€™s nerves had been damaged by the
radiation heâ€™d endured. I find this hard to accept, however, because
it doesnâ€™t explain how the doctorâ€™s able to tap into his brain so
that Pike could signal yes and no.
In any case, what to me overrides any flaws like this is the
character interaction and development in this episode. Spockâ€™s
concern for Captain Pike is touching, and we quickly discover that
his loyalty to Pike is so strong that heâ€™s willing to risk his life
for his former captainâ€™s welfare. This is the first time the audience
really gets to see the extent of Spockâ€™s loyalty and how complete his
integrity is. And it is not just Spockâ€™s loyalty we see exemplifiedâ€”
both Kirk and McCoy, despite being confused and angry at his
behavior, stand by him. These character traits are central to the
theme and tone of the entire series and will play a decisive role in
many later episodes.
Finally, â€śThe Menagerieâ€? concludes on a positive note of redemption,
even for the seemingly malignant Talosians, who turn out to be quite
compassionate. And thatâ€™s really the basis of this episode:
compassion, loyalty and friendship. But itâ€™s couched in a fascinating
story about the power, and danger, of illusion. Only in science fictionâ€¦
Next time: â€śThe Conscience of the Kingâ€?