I've always been fascinated with Jeff Hunter's performance as Captain Pike since I first saw it 20 years ago. It was such a very different take on the lead role than Shatner's. We must remember that we never really saw Pike handle a regular situation. When we meet him he's just coming off the back of a landing party gone disastrously wrong, he's lost his closest confidant (his old Yeoman) and it's hurting him badly deep inside. It's such a raw performance from Hunter. Until maybe the movies, I don't think we ever quite
got under the skin of Kirk in quite the same way as we see Pike's vulnerabilities laid bare in "The Cage".
As for the rest of the cast, they're pick and mix. Jose Tyler is likeable but nothing really more than that. Same for Dr Boyce, his scene with Pike is cute but it doesn't have a implicit chemistry that Bill Shatner and DeForest Kelley have in the series. The Yeoman certainly isn't on a level with Janice Rand. Even Nimoy is limited: he gives a good performance, but its obvious there's nothing there in the script to work with other than "This guy's an alien", and by his own admission Leonard basically just read the lines as they were written. It's Spock, but it's not
Spock, if you get my drift.
But I *do* actually like Majel Barrett as 'Number One'. I think she was a bold character for the time this was made. Lest we forget, it's she who ultimately resolves the whole damn plot. When Captain Pike seems to be in a daze and is actually willing to stay behind on Talos with Vina, it's Commander Majel (heck, we gotta call her something
) who plays poker with the aliens by setting her weapon on over-load, forcing them to back down. It's almost a shame the network made them drop her from the series, because she would have been a hell of a strong character to add to that ensemble - although maybe she wouldn't have worked as well alongside Kirk, she pretty much functions so well here precisely because
Pike's strength is downplayed so considerably.