Star Trek Saturdays #15

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #15!

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This week’s episode is “The Menagerie, Part 1” and it’s not only the first two-parter in Trek history, it’s also one hell of an episode, tense and intriguing from start to finish.

This is also, I feel incumbent to point out, the first episode–along with its 2nd part–written fully by series creator Gene Roddenberry. While he did come up with the stories for “Charlie X” and “Mudd’s Women,” this is the first episode where the screenplay is credited to him.

Our story opens with the Enterprise making a landing at Starbase 11 because, as Kirk explains to the officer who greets him, McCoy and Spock as they beam down, a subspace message was sent asking them to immediately divert there. However, the officer and the starbase’s commander, Commodore Mendez (Malachi Throne), inform them that the base sent no such message.

Kirk insists that Spock received the message from former Enterprise commander and current Fleet Captain Christopher Pike (Sean Kenney). Mendez tells them this is impossible and he explains to them that, during Pike’s routine inspection of a cadet vessel, one of the baffle plates–a part of the ship’s warp core–ruptured and Pike personally rescued the remaining crewmen. However, he suffered severe exposure to delta radiation and is now permanently confined to a specialized wheelchair. Mendez takes them to see Pike , who reveals himself in one of the most iconic images in sci-fi TV history.

Christopher Pike, The Menagerie

Pike cannot speak, but can send brain waves to his wheelchair, communicating with one beep for “Yes,” two beeps for “No.” Spock requests a moment alone with his former commander. When the rest leave, he tells Pike, “You know why I have come….I know it is treachery and it is mutiny, but I must do this.” Pike repeatedly beeps “No” to this, but Spock seems to not listen.

In Mendez’s office, Kirk tells him that the starbase did summon them, which Mendez emphatically denies. The record tapes show no such transmission and Mendez notes that Spock is the only one who heard this transmission. They argue for a while, with Mendez heavily suggesting that Spock fabricated the message while, down below, Spock infiltrates the computer banks of the starbase and manipulates the computer into ordering the Enterprise to leave orbit in an hour to an undisclosed location that Spock feeds to the ship’s computers and has them program coordinates to automatically.

Back in Mendez’s office, McCoy is called back aboard the Enterprise. Mendez then shows Kirk a top-secret report detailing what is known as General Order 7: “No vessel under any condition, emergency or otherwise, is to visit Talos IV.” The report, Mendez says, doesn’t even reveal why this is so, saying it’s only known to top fleet command and he shows Kirk that the only vessel to have ever visited the planet is the Enterprise…under the command of Christopher Pike and with Science Officer Spock.

Suddenly, Mendez and Kirk are alerted that Pike has disappeared from his room. Mendez contacts Starbase Operations for an explanation and is informed that the Enterprise is leaving orbit, refusing to respond to signals

On board, Spock informs the crew that Starfleet has sent them on a top secret mission, the location only known to the computers, and Kirk has been placed on medical rest, leaving him in command. McCoy enters the bridge, and Spock escorts him to a room containing Captain Pike; he plays him a tape of Kirk’s voice, saying McCoy is not to question Pike about anything and follow Spock completely. Pike continually blinks “No” during this. Suddenly, Spock is alerted to the fact that a shuttlecraft–containing Kirk and Mendez–is following them.

After the shuttle runs out of fuel and has only 2 hours of oxygen left, Spock orders the computer to bring the ship to a full stop and presents himself to McCoy for arrest. Kirk and Mendez beam on board and Kirk orders the ship to disengage. The computer informs Kirk, however, that it cannot; the computer controls are tied directly into the life support systems, so the ship cannot disengage until they reach Talos IV.

Kirk conveys a preliminary hearing, but Spock pleads guilty and requests a full court martial. As there are only two commanding officers present and three are needed for a court martial, Kirk refuses, but Mendez informs him that Pike is still part of the active duty roster because “We didn’t have the heart to retire him, Jim.

The court martial begins and Spock quickly convinces the court to display a video record of the Enterprise under Pike, 13 years ago, first encountering the planet of Talos IV (in events actually from the series’ first pilot, “The Cage” with Pike portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter). Kirk and Mendez claim the footage is not real, as records back then were not so meticulously filmed, but Pike, when asked, tells him that the events they’re seeing actually are what happened. And what the assembled officers see on the screen is strange indeed…

Oh man, this is a tense one. From the cold open, we’re presented with a mystery and, as Spock commits more and more subterfuge, it only gets deeper and deeper. The great thing about the episode using so much footage from “The Cage” is that it allows us to see just how different the world of the series originally was, and how it’s evolved since then. The uniforms, technology, heck, even the way transporters beam people down, are completely different and it’s remarkable to chart the progress made in the galaxy in only thirteen years according to canon. Roddenberry’s scripting makes the past and present events we see utterly gripping, and Marc Daniels’ direction (along with the footage from “The Cage” directed by Robert Butler) does a great job of bringing that across with tight, focused shots.

The performances from the central trio are great; we get to see Kirk being suspicious, McCoy being on edge (as well as deliver a short passionate speech about medical technology) and Spock being sneaky and manipulative, with Nimoy’s body language and facial expressions convey every ounce of his determination and desperation.

As Mendez, Throne is just as powerful a presence as Percy Rodriguez in “Court Martial,” conveying authority and sternness wonderfully. Of the two Captain Pikes, Hunter as the younger Pike is obviously more charismatic and appealing, Kenney, by simply sitting there under that scary makeup and staring, is just as affecting.

This is one tense hour of television, guys. Check this one out, or else have the ending spoiled next week.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

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