Star Trek: The Original Series episodes 11-12 review

We look back at the two parter of Star Trek's original series, The Menagerie...

Episode: 11 and 12Title: The Menagerie, Part I and Part IIStar Date: 3012.4Writer: Gene RoddenberryFirst Shown: 17th and 24th November 1966

There is only one two part episode in the entire original series of Star Trek, and The Menagerie was created from parts of the original Cage pilot with Jeffrey Hunter playing the Enterprise’s previous leader, Captain Pike. The events we see from this production are presented as being 13 years prior to the Kirk era, suggesting that Mr. Spock has been on this starship for some considerable time.

The story starts with Kirk arriving at a starbase having been called there by Fleet Captain Christopher Pike. There he meets Commander Mendez, who explains that, due to an accident, Pike couldn’t have sent that message, as he’s entirely incapacitated in a futuristic wheelchair. His only form of communication is a light on this device, which he blinks once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no’.

The mystery deepens further when Spock fabricates coded commands and effectively steels the Enterprise to head to an off-limits planet, Talos IV.

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Kirk and Mendez pursue the Enterprise in a shuttle, and expend all their fuel attempting to catch Spock. Realising he must make a choice between Kirk’s life and taking Captain Pike to Talos IV, he chooses to save his current captain. However, the ship remains on that course lock by computer, and a court martial is arranged onboard to sentence Spock for his dereliction of duty.

The rest of the first episode is then material from The Cage, where Pike is lured to Talos IV, thinking a crashed crew is alive there only to be captured by the mind-altering Talosians.

The second part continues the adventures of Captain Pike, where he gets to know the beautiful Vina (played by the stunningly lovely Susan Oliver) and more about how the Talosians can control the minds of those they wish to study, in both pleasurable and painful ways. Pike doesn’t react well to confinement, and meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, the first officer and Spock try to cut through to the labyrinth below the surface to release their captain. He’s having a curious day where one minute he’s been attacked by horrible creatures or suffering in hell, and the next he’s being amused by a green Orion slave girl.

What works really well is the contrast between the original 1964 production pilot and the actual series. Many things changed, which then supports the story that we’re looking at the past.

Eventually, Pike is released when the Talosians realised he’d rather die than be a guest, and it’s then explained to him that not everything he experienced was completely fantasy. Vina was the sole survivor of a real crash, although she wasn’t lovely any longer after the Talosians had put her back together without a proper instruction guide.

The resolution of this story within a story, if you’d not guessed, is that Spock is returning Pike to the planet so he can be with Vina again and have a life even if it’s only made in his own mind by the not-so-bad but amazingly powerful Talosians.

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You pat yourself on the back for guessing that was coming, but then are caught with the counterpunch when Mendez disappears, yet another Talosian illusion to get Kirk to go along with Spock’s plan. That altered reality conveniently avoids the necessity for Spock to die or even get demoted.

As much as I like some of the ideas in this story there are some huge plot holes that are opened by how they merged the old pilot with the running series. The first was that Jeffrey Hunter was too expensive to get back as Pike, so another actor who looks nothing like him takes his role. I know it’s a non-speaking part, and he’s supposed to be mutilated, but even as a child I didn’t connect the two people.

My other problem is with the wheelchair-bound Pike. He can control the wheelchair but his entire repertoire of communication is ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Given how Stephen Hawking has adapted to similar limitations, this seems entirely rubbish for the 23rd century. But logically, why would you give him all the control needed to direct his chair, but only yes/no to talk? It makes no sense at all.

I could also mention that Majel Barrett’s character has taken more than a decade to get demoted from being second in command to being a nurse in sick bay, although it could be argued that she’s not actually the same character.

Another curiosity is why Gene Roddenberry chose to have two different directors do each part of the same story, with Marc Daniels on first and Robert Butler on the other. Surely the tone might have been more consistent if one director had delivered the whole story?

Yet, even with these obvious flaws, this is a great story that delivers moral dilemmas for Kirk, a back story for Spock and hammers home what a dedicated and loyal first officer he is.

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The revamp that the restoration applied to this story is exceptional, with some really wonderful ship effects and they’ve even fixed the transformation of Vina. On the Blu-ray there is support material explaining what they’ve fixed, which is actually worth watching because of the amount in here that got altered.

Next, the Enterprise gets all thespian on us, with The Conscience Of The King.