Shuttle Pod 42: On The Eve Of Discovery, A Look Back At Star Trek’s First Pilot(s)

This Sunday, the sixth live-action Star Trek television series will make its debut. For the subsequent week, Star Trek: Discovery will be judged on this two-part pilot episode alone. Pilots are important to any series. They set up the premise of the show while introducing us to the people who will guide us through a brand new world over the coming years.

Discovery, of course, comes on the heels of over 50 years of Star Trek. But, the entire franchise was at one time judged on just two episodes. The original pilot, “The Cage” looks today like some kind of distant relative of the TOS we came to know. The episode, which starred Jeffrey Hunter as captain of the Enterprise, didn’t quite sell the show to the network, and so “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was created, a second pilot to appease the network’s desire for more action and a less broody lead.

Listen as Kayla, Brian, Matt, and Jared take a look back at the first two pilots in Star Trek history and discuss what worked, what didn’t, and how the episodes set up what Star Trek was to become.

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Sadly the mp3 that Idownloaded doesn’t seem to work :-(. The file extension seems to be corrupted, both on Windows Media Player and other players. Could you perhaps change that dear editors from Trekmovie?

Also, the link makes you download a 0 MB file, and not a 55 MB file. Something’s going wrong.

Thanks for the heads up, Gert! Sorry about that. Technical glitch. All fixed now :)

I’ll really look forward to listening to this, especially in anticipation of the Discovery premiere. I love the TOS pilots, and allowing for technical advances and changes in the way stories are told on television still consider them superior to the pilots for any of the spinoffs, with the possible exception of DS9’s. The others are full of fairly clunky exposition to set up their respective series; these two just concentrate on telling the story at hand, and give the viewer space to fill in many of the details. In that respect, at least, we seem to have gone backwards.

Just to follow-up, since I thought you all did a very nice job, here are a few facts about “The Cage” you Treksperts apparently didn’t know:

The final cut of the first pilot runs sixty-six minutes. Roddenberry sought Hunter’s cooperation in possibly shooting additional footage so it could be expanded to feature length once it failed to sell, but was rebuffed.

The bridge displays were projected slides, which had to be controlled by a licensed union projectionist. This would have been cost-prohibitive on a weekly basis, so were simplified to the static screens we saw in the second pilot and the series.

Had Jeffrey Hunter elected to remain with Star Trek it’s entirely possible he wouldn’t have died so young. Injured when he was thrown against a wall in an on-set explosion while filming in Spain, he was found dead of a cerebral hemorrhage at the foot of the stairs in his home several months later.

I was able to attend a screening of the two pilots and the fan-produced “World Enough and Time” at the Director’s Guild in Los Angeles a few years back. In attendance were Robert Butler, director of “The Cage,” Sally Kellerman, co-star of “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and Marc Scott Zicree, author of “The Twilight Zone Companion” and Co-Writer/Director of the New Voyages episode. Butler confessed that he never understood Trek’s enduring popularity, but Kellerman, who of course will forever be known as Hot Lips Houlihan in the film version of M*A*S*H, claimed to be pleasantly surprised at how well she thought “Where No Man. . .” had held up since viewing it on its original airing.

Hi Michael! Thanks for your comments, great to have you as a listener. Yeah, there are a lot of details we could have expanded upon. As with every podcast ep, there’s always stuff that gets left out!

I personally didn’t know the history of Hunter you mentioned, but Matt and I were chatting about it off the air. Very interesting!

Unfathomable to think The Cage and Discovery take place right about the same time. Such poor production design from the Discovery crew.

The part of the Discovery design you really object to is that they allow gay people on board.

Another great Shuttle Pod! One thing you brought up that never occurred to me was the possibility the Talosian’s still had them in an illusion… There better not be any “Lost-like” ending to all this.

I look forward to your Disco coverage… “GO!” :)

I disagree that “The Cage” is humorless.
For one example, when Pike returns from Talos IV without Vina, he replies, “no…..and I agreed with her reasons.” As part of “The Cage,” (and not “The Menagerie”) his delivery makes it funny.

So your conversation about Kirk in the Kelvin timeline hit on something that bothered me at first, too, since his backstory (and the occasional crippling self-doubt that he carried over into TOS) were the most interesting things about his character to me. But I actually came around to ST09’s portrayal pretty quickly.

I got the impression that the team on the movie knew they were flipping his personality, and came up with a reasonably convincing explanation. Beginning the movie with his father’s death let them establish that, instead of growing up with an obvious role model to emulate, their Kirk learned to be a rebel instead. And it was kind of a clever twist that this alternate timeline gave him a personality that superficially looks familiar but is actually coming from a completely different place—which is part of what makes Chris Pine’s performance work, too.

Where it really fell down is when they put him in command of the Enterprise anyway. Even by the movie’s own logic, Spock should have ended up as the captain with Kirk as his first officer. (Both problems probably happened because they decided they could only deviate from the original series in superficial ways like making the ships gigantic or making Pike like 20 years older. But I saw it is them having a good initial idea and then blinking at the last second instead of seeing it through.)

I hated Trek 2009’s take on Kirk, but your analysis is interesting. My feeling at the time was that the writers, whose knowledge of TOS was obviously superficial for all their protestations of love for it, lazily went for the TOP GUN “talented bad boy with an attitude” template without even getting that Tom Cruise’s Pete Mitchell ultimately learns that there are things more important than his own ego and self-aggrandizement, and loses the contest. Frat-boy Kirk leapfrogs over dozens of qualified candidates to assume command of the fleet’s flagship, because he’s just that awesome. Eight years later, and I still have a hard time believing just how awful it all was.

“Where it really fell down is when they put him in command of the Enterprise anyway. Even by the movie’s own logic, Spock should have ended up as the captain with Kirk as his first officer.”

By the movie’s own logic, Spock should have ended up as captain with *Sulu* as first officer. Kirk as helmsman out of the Academy I could have bought.

There was also a simpler solution of tamping down the “rebel Kirk” plot and having him be akin to Saavik in TWOK, or Ro in “Preemptive Strike,” i.e., completing command graduate school.

I actually do have a formula for calculating TOS’s sexism. A three point scale that ranks the women characters on a spectrum from strong feminist portrayal to blatant sexist stereotype. I’m tracking this on my podcast as I rewatch the first season. However, Im don’t have it in my to apply this to ENT because that means I would have to watch that series.

Yet another very nice podcast, congratulations to everyone.

I’ll very much look forward to hearing your thoughts on the premier!

I just discovered your podcast and it has quickly become my favorite “Star Trek”-related podcast. Keep up the terrific work!