STAR TREK:
- The Original Series (TOS)
- The Animated Series
- The Movies
- The Next Generation (TNG)
- Deep Space Nine (DS9)
- Voyager
- Enterprise

THE ORIGINAL SERIES:
- Season One
- Season Two
- Season Three
- "Season Four"

Season One:
-1: "The Cage"
-2: "Where No Man Has Gone Before"
-3: "The Corbomite Maneuver"
-4: "Mudd's Women"
-5: "The Enemy Within"
-6: "The Man Trap"
-7: "The Naked Time"
-8: "Charlie X"
-9: "Balance of Terror"
-13: "The Conscience of the King"
-16: "The Menagerie"
-20: "The Alternative Factor"
----: _Time Travel Season 1
-21: "Tomorrow is Yesterday"
----: _Prime Directive Origins
-22: "The Return of the Archons"

-23: "A Taste of Armageddon"
-27: "Errand of Mercy"
-28: "The City On the Edge of Forever"
-29: "Operation -- Annihilate!"
-Season 1 Rankings"


SCIENCE FICTION:
- Doctor Who
- Sliders
- The Matrix


- Main Index
- Site Map

Star Trek TOS

The Original Series

(1966-1969)

The Cage

(Star Trek story #1 in production order)
written and produced by Gene Roddenberry
directed by Robert Butler
music by Alexander Courage

By far the best way to appreciate Star Trek for what it is,
is to start at the beginning. In other words, let's bypass the networks' misconceptions about what it needed to be to sell, and their subsequent forcing it to come out sideways in its broadcast sequence.

Star Trek's first pilot story "The Cage", in its original 63 minute presentation, is both a contender for the best story of the entire original series, and one of the most pure statements of vision from Trek's creator/producer Gene Roddenberry, affectionately known by cast and crew as the Great Bird of the Galaxy. Indeed, though Roddenberry shares writing credits on many Star Trek episodes, there are very, very few that credit him as the sole writer. This is one of those special episodes that does, and is the best of them by far.

You may think you know this one well enough from the other version of it, the expanded two-part season one adventure "The Menagerie". Yes, that presents a lot of the same events and reworks much of the same footage, but it's a different beast in many important ways. A lot of the excellence of "The Cage" can only be appreciated in its original form, in the way that extra scenes add information, drive home the stakes and the themes of the piece, increase dramatic tensions, and most importantly in how a different ending may punctuate its primary philosophical message. Much as I like both versions, "The Cage" is definitely the superior telling of this tale.


Introductory Odyssey

The story's hook is a bit nebulous and non-urgent, but I think it generally works in this instance - particularly if you set your mind back and pretend that the entire Star Trek universe is unknown and unfamiliar, you would want a bit of a gentler way of easing yourself into the surroundings and customs, as this pilot gives you.

One of the story's earliest strengths is the simple scene in Pike's quarters between the Captain and the Doctor. The two actors knock this scene out of the park, and it's a scene that set so much of the tone of Star Trek's intelligent self-examination and depth of character. It also cleverly sets up a lot of the backdrops that we will later see in the remainder of the story. We come out of this scene fully invested in Captain Christopher Pike, for both his inner and outer struggles.

The story is also pretty smart in beginning by taking us neatly through an odyssey of all the "real" environments that will be typical for the series as it moves forward. We get model exteriors of the ship, with an exceptional lead in to the bridge, and from there we expand to show corridors, crew quarters, and eventually a conference room. We also get a perfect demonstration of the transporter as it beams the Captain's landing party down from its special operating room to the surface of the planet Talos Four. This planet is a bit more lavish than the eventual norm on this show, since they wouldn't be able to spend this much time on lighting during a weekly production schedule, so enjoy the greater production value while it lasts. Nicely, the crew takes some time to simply explore the setting visually, a section that satisfies and only lasts as long as it should. And it's not long before we see some action with fantastic looking phaser blasts, strange looking aliens, and an all-out set piece brawl, with our gallant captain rescuing a "damsel in distress". All great exposition for what the Star Trek environment will deliver week after week, and how it will all work.

Technically, this story primarily has one member of the crew - the captain - trapped on a planet for the entire episode while his shipmates struggle to rescue him. Though this may reflect a type of plot that gets overused in many action-adventure TV shows, including this show and its many spinoffs, "The Cage" is doing something very special here to mitigate its usual dullness. We actually wind up seeing the captain in a very wide variety of settings, each with a different tone and style. Indeed, by the time we come to the end of this story, it feels as though he's done a better job of getting around than anyone else on his crew.


Captain Pike's Crew

Because we have now become so accustomed to many different casts and crews on all the various spinoff Star Trek series, I think it's easier for us now in retrospect to accept and wholeheartedly go with the very different crew that is presented to us in this pilot. Jeffery Hunter makes an excellent captain, and it's easy to see that he could have done a really good job of leading a series, had he continued on.

Leonard Nimoy is here playing Mr. Spock, who is this story's biggest anchor for continuity with the rest of the series. He presents a very enjoyable and watchable character here, though doesn't quite have nailed down all the personality traits he will later be famous for.

Perhaps the next most familiar to Star Trek fans of all the other actors present will be Majel Barrett. Here she plays a character known only as "Number One", a nickname for the second in command of the ship that Picard will later use for Riker on "The Next Generation" Star Trek spinoff. There are a lot of funny theories floating around about why the network didn't approve this character for the series. A lot has been said in Barrett's favour about how women should be ready to take command of the ship in the audience's eyes. Yes, quite a noble and correct cause for Roddenberry to champion, though perhaps this was just a smokescreen for nepotism that put the network in a position that was very difficult to successfully defend.

But I think there was perhaps a fatal flaw in the character brief for Number One to begin with. In terms of what makes people appealing on screen, it's much easier to get away with a male character maintaining attractiveness while showing no emotion. Indeed, Pike certainly isn't very jolly or exuberant in this one, yet he is still very likeable. But I think if you want to make a female character appealing enough to be the second lead of a TV series, attracting as wide an audience as possible, you don't want her to be emotionally shut down and inexpressive. If you ask for it, you can get a good actress like Barrett to absolutely nail the character, and it still won't be enough to give nervous executives the confidence to take a chance on it as a series staple. Perhaps they knew this in their guts without knowing how to articulate it. I don't think Number One was dropped because she was a woman in command - indeed I absolutely love the scenes of her in charge of the crew, leading the rescue efforts and thinking through all the steep challenges. I think dropping the character had much more to do with her being a female lead devoid of emotional expressiveness by design, and on those grounds the character makes a better guest star than a regular. Star Trek eventually made the smarter move of giving the unemotional aspects to Mr. Spock, while Nimoy worked hard to ensure that it remained interesting and attractive to the audience.

Another very good castmember here is John Hoyt playing Dr. Philip Boyce. I liked this character a lot and wish we could have seen more of him in a continuing series. Susan Oliver made an excellent guest star for this pilot, playing a character with a wide range of dramatic points and an equally wide range of different looks. It is perhaps a bit of a shame that it isn't until the reveal of her final secret at the end that the audience can truly see how well-rounded her character has been the whole time... meanwhile many women in the audience may be rolling their eyes with incredulity. Meg Wyllie is also a very critical member of the cast in making this show a success, as she brings the very alien Keeper to life, with a little help from Malachi Throne's electronically processed voice. A very successful combination.

I liked Laurel Goodwin as the Yeoman in this one - it would have been fun to see further shenanigans from this character. She's a good foil for Hunter's captain, and I'm sure I would have enjoyed any further scenes played for humour between those two. A lot of the other characters seem to be homogenous variations on over-eager American enlisted men - war films often seem to be overpopulated with these types. Of the lot, Peter Duryea's Lt. José Tyler stands out as the most memorable and perhaps most archetypal - for sure something good could have been made of his character if the series had followed the modern spinoff's practice of rotating main protagonist status amongst a large cast during various episodes. However, this didn't happen much in 1960's Star Trek, and I'm not sure the character could attract much attention if left as background support.

Believe it or not, Spock isn't the only crewmember in this story to continue into the series. Geological Technician Fisher, played by Ed Madden, will be back for another episode or two before too long as well, but you'll have to keep your eyes peeled, and prepare to look beyond a slight alteration of his hair....


Razzamatazz...

The high production values of this pilot, compared with the rest of the series, help it stand out and above many other episodes. Nicely, there is enough budget to make the laser beams present and impressive as a lot of enjoyably colourful effects are painted onto the screen, with enough sound effects and energy to create some breathtaking spectacle. Very good. We also get a surprisingly wide variety of environments as visual eye-candy. The sound effects team are also hard at work creating the standard library that we will come to enjoy and celebrate as part of this show's auditory signature.

One of the production's great oddities is that all of the nice model shots of the Enterprise are crammed into either the title sequence or the end credits. We don't see anything of the ship as it enters or exits Talosian orbit, and though there seems to be an open spot for a few more shots in the edit as they decide to answer the distress call, we get nothing but empty space with characters' faces superimposed. Weird. Even if they had to re-use some shots, either flipped left-to-right for variety or left as is, it would have been good to have stuck them in.

And of no small import is Alexander Courage's triumphant musical score, easily the most impressive and varied of the four he did for the show's first season. This story marks the debut of the mystical tinkling call of space, followed by the triumphant answer of Star Trek's signature opening fanfare that represents the best of the human spirit. Then follows the 1960's adventurous swinging title theme, which receives the most sympathetic vocal performance here that it will ever get, as these same vocal qualities extend other-worldliness to many of the other individual cues of the story. There are many other great highlights to this highly melodic score, but perhaps my favourite is the very strangely orchestrated Talosian Theme which debuts near the end of "The Survivors" and features Jack Cookerly's self-built electronic guitar. Most cool, and quickly going on to become another signature Trek sound.

music by Alexander Courage


Optimism in Action

The ending for this story is both a blessing and a bit of trouble. The trouble is that it doesn't quite escalate its levels of drama, excitement, and energy high enough to deliver a definitive final challenge for Pike and company to overcome. There is some good tension and threat (and more in "The Cage" version that in "The Menagerie" version), as Pike frees himself and his friends from incarceration, and earns some respect from his adversaries, but no, it isn't the brawl or shootout or chase that we might all instinctively get invested in, were this a good action episode of a western. There's a bit of a downbeat here as well, with the now sympathetic Talosian society looking as though it's headed for extinction, and Vena resigning herself from participation in reality.

But I think the positives on display here get their due in terms of cinematic and musical moments, and eventually shine stronger. Captain Pike has been learning and adapting all through this adventure, and stays focused enough that he can eventually see through his adversaries' illusions and outsmart them to gain his freedom. We also see him and his second in command negotiate their way to a peaceful solution and come to an understanding with their adversaries - a most noble Trekkian staple - and this episode's version of that is particularly organic in the way that it develops. This conclusion eventually sees all the characters celebrating Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, a very good ideal to promote on-screen in the pilot. Very well done.

This pilot story is also quite vocal with its theme of illusions and fantasy versus reality, offering a lot of good dialogue on the subject, and examining some of the long-term ramifications and dangers. I always particularly loved the strong statements for preferring reality over fantasy, which feel particularly inspirational. At the end of this one, Pike chooses his hard won reality, and that felt like the correct conclusion for this highly enjoyable story.

In later years, I realized I'd missed a more subtle layer here. In actual fact, Roddenberry has put in a few good words for fantasy as well, not least of all since Pike's forced indulgence in it has somewhat cured his disillusionment for his life and career, and put him back on the path to embracing both more wholeheartedly. Perhaps the fantasy part of the argument hasn't quite been hit on the head as directly or with as much power, but it remains key to appreciating the balance of the ending. Vena and the Talosians choose fantasy, and the Keeper signs off by noting how they've all chosen different things, continuing to enjoy infinite diversity. "May you find your way as pleasant," he offers. Very nice formula for cultures to maintain their richness and find peace with each other. VERY Trek. I'll have that over a bout of fisticuffs any day.


Yes, this 63 minute cinematic story is a classic, not just for Star Trek, but also for television and cinema, and nicely for its primary genre as well. "The Cage" embraces a very strong identity as science fiction, and rises to be one of sci-fi's most excellent gems, demonstrating how television can do the genre right. Kudos to all those who participated in bringing this fine piece of art to life.


Read the next Star Trek review: "Where No Man Has Gone Before"



It is perhaps another sad oddity that "The Cage" is not part of the standard yellow season one box sets for Star Trek on DVD or Blu-ray. Instead, you have to dig through the bonus features on the THIRD season (the RED sets) to find this film in its superior all-colour restoration. Well, it remains well worth it to start there, and then come back to the rest of the season one episodes which, once again, are best viewed in production order....

Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Star Trek "Purist" Standard DVD Box Set Bundle:

Watch the legend develop from its infancy. This bundle contains all 79 episodes of The Original Series in their original wacky broadcast order, including "The Menagerie Parts 1 & 2" which used footage from the original unaired pilot "The Cage". However, "The Cage" itself is included on the last disc of the red Season Three set.

As someone interested in researching how the episodes actually looked and sounded originally, and when and exactly how certain musical cues first debuted, this was the DVD set for me, and it remains the most untampered-with full-season collection of Star Trek out there. Unique extras include pure text commentaries on select episodes. Sadly, these sets are starting to become rare, and prices are now rising as these become collectors' items....

DVD U.S.



DVD Canada

Standard DVD features include:

  • All 79 original broadcast episodes
  • Two versions of "The Cage" (All colour restoration, plus colour/BW mix) on the LAST disc of the third season.
  • Gene Roddenberry's 7 minute introduction to "The Cage" from the VHS video.
  • "The Birth of a Timeless Legacy" documentary (24 min.) discussing the making of "The Cage" and the first few episodes of the series, and the assembly of the regular cast.
  • "The Menagerie" - the two part story that incorporated "The Cage" into a sequel that included Kirk, McCoy, and the others.
  • plus much more...
DVD U.S.



DVD Canada

DVD U.K.

Season One Standard DVD features include:

  • original broadcast versions of season one's 29 episodes.

  • "The Cage" itself is NOT included!

    However, you do get:

  • "The Birth of a Timeless Legacy" documentary (24 min.)
  • "The Menagerie" - the two part story that incorporated "The Cage" into a sequel that included Kirk, McCoy, and the others.
  • plus much more...
DVD U.S.



DVD Canada

DVD U.K.

Season Three Standard DVD features include:

  • original broadcast versions of season three's 24 episodes.
  • "The Cage" (all colour, 63 min.)
  • "The Cage" (BW/colour mix + Gene's intro, 71 min.)
  • plus much more...

The Original Series Remastered Sets

Most standard DVD Star Trek sets now advertise themselves as "re-mastered", but beware. What this means is that in addition to picture and sound quality restoration, liberties have been taken with "upgrading" the episodes. Most famously, new CGI effects and optical shots have replaced many space scenes, matte paintings, and phaser effects. Unlike similar upgrades applied to select Doctor Who DVD releases since 2002, the CGI effects cannot be turned off to see the original effects. The kicker for me comes from reports that the episodes have been rescored with new music. Interesting, funky, but since it's primarily the original music I'm after in the first place, this was not the set for me.

Star Trek TOS on Blu Ray

  79 episodes @ 51 minutes
Star Trek sets are now available on Blu Ray. Picture and sound quality restoration has gone up yet another notch since the remastered version, as have the liberties taken with "upgrading" the episodes. Once again, even newer CGI effects and optical shots have replaced many space scenes, matte paintings, and phaser effects.... but this time the upgrades have the same respect and user-functionality applied to select Doctor Who DVD releases since 2002, as the CGI effects can now be turned off to see the original effects. Good show. It seems that the music has still been tampered with too much for my liking though.
Blu-ray U.S.



Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray features include:

  • option to watch episodes with original or new CGI effects.
  • All 79 original broadcast episodes
  • Two versions of "The Cage" (All colour restoration, plus colour/BW mix) on the LAST disc of the third season.
  • "The Birth of a Timeless Legacy" documentary (24 min.)
  • "The Menagerie" - the two part story that incorporated "The Cage" into a sequel that included Kirk, McCoy, and the others.
  • plus much more....
Blu-ray U.S.



Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray U.K.

Blu-ray features include:

  • option to watch episodes with original or new CGI effects.
  • original broadcast versions of season one's 29 episodes.

  • "The Cage" itself is NOT included!

    However, you do get:

  • "The Birth of a Timeless Legacy" documentary (24 min.)
  • "The Menagerie" - the two part story that incorporated "The Cage" into a sequel that included Kirk, McCoy, and the others.
  • plus much more...
Blu-ray U.S.



Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray U.K.

Blu-ray features include:

  • option to watch original or new CGI effects.
  • original broadcast versions of season three's 24 episodes.
  • Two versions of "The Cage" (All colour restoration, plus colour/BW mix).
  • "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (unaired version, HD)
  • plus much more...


Article written by Martin Izsak. Comments are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


LYRATEK.COM


Read the next Star Trek review: "Where No Man Has Gone Before"



Home Page Site Map Science Fiction Doctor Who Sliders The Matrix Star Trek Catalogue