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Star Trek - Original Series The one that started it all...

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Old March 13 2011, 05:44 PM   #1
Warped9
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Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

Recently I've been revisiting TNG a series I haven't really watched in at least fifteen years. I was curious to see if my current perceptions of the series were in sync with what I remembered, and to see if time might have altered my view of the show. Context can mean a great deal since when TNG was in production there was really little else to compete with it on television, and the only other Trek was TOS and the films The Motion Picture through to The Undiscovered Country. It was also a time before dvd boxed sets became available and popular and allowing you to go back and see something without having to wait for it to be rerun on television.

And so now to add some variety to my revisiting schedule (I'm presently just beginning TNG's Season 5) I've decided to revisit another series I haven't seen with any regularity for some years.

Over the past several years I've caught TOS periodically in a lunch time rerun and never an entire episode. Presently SPACE is rerunning TOS-R daily. At this time I've decided not to bother with picking up the TOS-R sets and I'll resort to using my original TOS dvd boxed sets.

The last time I watched TOS in its entirety was when the original dvd sets had been released some years ago. This could prove interesting since a lot of SF has aired on television since then. I've also watched and enjoyed Babylon 5, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis.

I've decided to view the episodes in production order and I'll immediately follow the original episodes with the animated series episodes. I'll review the originally unaired pilot "The Cage" first yet not include it in my overview of Season 1. Then I'll proceed through the episodes in production order to get a better sense of progression and series evolution, just as I've done with TNG. Lastly I'll go through TAS in production order only I'll overview the series as a whole since there are only twenty-two episodes.


I should have "The Cage" reviewed sometime this afternoon to get started.

Rating system
***** Excellent
**** Good
*** Fair
** Poor
* Bad
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Old March 13 2011, 06:48 PM   #2
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

I've enjoyed your reviews and really look forward to your TAS opinions. I'm fairly TOS like you, so giddyup.
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Old March 13 2011, 09:10 PM   #3
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

"The Cage" *****

Captain Christopher Pike is captured by aliens and subjected to convincing illusions for some unknown purpose.

If you're old enough you can't help but view this from two alternating perspectives. How this might have been seen like in 1964/65 and how it stands today with everything that's come along since.

By early 1960s standards this is a first-rate piece of work. I think you can clearly see influences of the better SF films of the 1950s and early '60s yet you can also see similarities between this and productions like The Twilight Zone and most particularly The Outer Limits. Yes, it has some limitations of television production from that era and yet I don't see too much difference between this and what you could have seen in a feature film.

For me the most obvious limitation---and this may have been a constriction of time and budget rather than ability---is the lack of good external shots of the Enterprise filming miniature beyond the opening sequence. And I still like that iconic introductory shot of the Enterprise. Yes, it is limited by the miniature not being lighted and by the awkward f/x work as the p.o.v. zooms into the bridge from overhead, but there's still something about it that somehow didn't get translated into the TOS-R version of that same shot. The use of the 3ft. filming miniature isn't as good except for those first high-speed flyby shots.

When it comes to set design it's hard to beat the original bridge. And I must say I quite like how it looks in this first viewing of it. It certainly evokes an atmosphere we will see agin many years later in Star Trek - The Motion Picture.

The f/x work here is mixed. Some of it is still respectable even in our cgi saturated era while other parts show their age. Most notably I'm thinking of the moments when Pike glimpses something in other cages near his. Another limitation is when illustrations are used on monitor screens instead of photographic images. That said the transporter f/x is still good although I find the musical chiming effect to be a bit odd. The sight of hardcopy printout at first seems anachronistic until you realize the likelihood of electronic smart paper that we may see introduced within the next few years. However, the old-fashioned clipboards definately look outdated.

In terms of story, writing and acting "The Cage" still holds up well. It effectively introduces all the basic elements for a television series concept without beating us over the head with any of them. I think the writing is generally tight and the characters all behave and speak in a credible manner. I like how Captain Pike quickly begins figuring things out for himself---a nice touch where the viewer is likely no further ahead than the character (assuming you've never seen this before).

One last anachronism is Pike's reference to women on his bridge after we've already been introduced to Number One and moments earlier we also a another woman manning one of the other bridge stations as well as women in the ship's corridors.

Although it's widely known that "The Cage" didn't sell Star Trek as a series it did, however, sell Star Trek as a concept for television, prompting NBC to ask for a second pilot episode. It's also interesting to speculate what kind of series we might have gotten and how different it might have been if NBC had bought Star Trek as a series based on "The Cage." Note that at this point we don't really see much evidence of a multiracial crew on Pike's Enterprise. It's fair to assume if the series had gone ahead based on "The Cage" that Roddenberry and company would have tweaked their ideas for series production, but what might they have done and how far might they have gone? It's possible having a second try at a series pilot allowed them to refine their concepts before being neck deep in series production.

Even with its limitations "The Cage" remains a respectable and polished work even in comparison with later Trek pilots. It certainly made for a solid basic template to further flesh out for what was to come.
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Old March 13 2011, 10:46 PM   #4
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

I too wonder if Star Trek would have been able to "fly" as a series if it would have been produced using the concepts and values as shown in The Cage.

I guess its safe to say that its rejection forced a good deal of rethinking, as Roddenberry himself stated that he got "carried away" and produced a story that wasn't what he had originally promised.
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Old March 13 2011, 11:00 PM   #5
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

Perhaps it isn't what he supposedly promised the network, but they were the ones who chose the story of three that were submitted. And I think it should be noted that "The Cage" touches on ideas including sexuality in an adult manner without any real nudge-nudge, wink-wink attitude. And it still works.

Today they'd likely try to insert even more sexual innuendo if not even some measure of nudity. Can you imagine the creators of ENT trying to do a similar story?

"The Cage" was something more akin to better SF literature, better films and The Outer Limits, straight serious minded SF as opposed to just escapism.


There was another unexpected and unplanned for value in "The Cage" in that it would later allow the series staff to allow us to see some pre TOS history. Otherwise it would have been just too prohibitively expensive to show us that in any later episode.
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Old March 13 2011, 11:22 PM   #6
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

They definitely hit it 'out-of-the-park' in their first at-bat.
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Old March 14 2011, 12:08 AM   #7
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

I think the prevalent sexism evident in "The Cage" is a little more troubling that something that can just be written off as an "anachronism." Mind you, the series regular can be far worse (i.e. "Turnabout Intruder"), but the first pilot also features Vina, a character who ultimately decides that she would rather live an illusion than return to society because she is physically disfigured (and Pike agrees with her!).

On one hand, it's a shame that Roddenberry was so stubborn that he refused to cast a better actress in the role of "Number One," which resulted in the character's elimination from the series in the second pilot. On the other hand, the trinity of Kirk-Spock-McCoy is a primary reason why the series still holds up, and the dynamic would be very different with Number One still on-board.

I'm glad you noticed the lack of racial diversity among the crew in the first pilot. It often goes unnoticed, no doubt due to Roddenberry's extensive claims that his racially integrated crew (Who? The Asian transporter co-operator who doesn't speak?) infuriated NBC Executives. Thankfully the series made a bit of forward progress in this area, though never as much as the supposedly "visionary" Roddenberry would later suggest.

I still think it's an adequate episode, and I rather like the world-weary character of Pike, as well as Courage's music. But it was a pilot, and, as with most pilots, a number of flaws are evident.
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Old March 14 2011, 12:14 AM   #8
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

The sexism is more apparent because, a) it draws attention to itself and, b) the time when it was made. The smart thing to do would have been just to have the women characters there and not comment on it. But they felt compelled to remark on it.

As for Vina she had lived with horrible disfiguration for eighteen years and the Talosians offered her a way to live that she possibly thought impossible in her real society. Who is to say what choice any of us would have made in a similar situation?
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Old March 14 2011, 12:28 AM   #9
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

In my opinion The Cage feels like it could be a TNG episode. I remember reading that the criticisms of The Cage was that it was too cerebral. So it looks like to me that after the success of TOS and their movies Roddenberry was able to make TNG more in that cerebral fashion. Don't get me wrong I love The Cage and TOS as well as TNG but it does seem to fit more in the TNG mold.
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Old March 14 2011, 12:40 AM   #10
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

Warped9 wrote: View Post
The sexism is more apparent because, a) it draws attention to itself and, b) the time when it was made. The smart thing to do would have been just to have the women characters there and not comment on it. But they felt compelled to remark on it.
I think chalking up the sexism entirely to the time the show was made is giving Roddenberry a free pass. Certainly, sexual politics were different in the 1960s than they are today, but at the time "The Cage" was made a number of prominent (and strong) female characters were appearing on other shows without so comments so dismissive (and incongruous, considering the other women on the bridge).

As for Vina she had lived with horrible disfiguration for eighteen years and the Talosians offered her a way to live that she possibly thought impossible in her real society. Who is to say what choice any of us would have made in a similar situation?
A choice which Pike completely agrees with without any comment? I'm not sure I'd make a different choice, either, but Pike's total agreement makes the message pretty clear.
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Old March 14 2011, 01:11 AM   #11
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

^^ I think you're being unfair. I understand your view, but considering the time when the episode was made it's difficult to assess what they thought they could and could not get away with.

Consider also that some of the sexism isn't apparent until "The Cage" is finally seen in its complete form many years later. Before that all we saw of it was in "The Menagerie" two-parter where Pike's comments on the bridge had been edited out.

Yes, other shows were making inroads with women, but it was still early goings and not everyone was on the same page.

I disagree that "The Cage" is too cerebral and more like TNG. TNG has never been more cerebral than TOS. It simply had a different style. And the main distinction between "The Cage" and TOS is style and the lack of TOS' character dynamic.
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Old March 14 2011, 01:22 AM   #12
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

Warped9 wrote: View Post
I disagree that "The Cage" is too cerebral and more like TNG. TNG has never been more cerebral than TOS. It simply had a different style. And the main distinction between "The Cage" and TOS is style and the lack of TOS' character dynamic.
The network found The Cage too cerebral and while I think it is cerebral I think that is a good thing.

I don't think that TNG was more Cerebral than TOS but there is something in the style of the Cage that reminds me of the type of work Gene would later do in TNG.
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Old March 14 2011, 01:27 AM   #13
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

Space Therapist wrote: View Post
I don't think that TNG was more Cerebral than TOS but there is something in the style of the Cage that reminds me of the type of work Gene would later do in TNG.
Agreed. "The Cage" feels more sedate (for lack of a better word) than what we got later in TOS. It doesn't have TOS' sense of vitality and enthusiasm.

One thing "The Cage" underlines even though it would be tempered throughout TOS is the more adult and straight approach to SF in the visual medium. "The Cage" and TOS tried to eschew many sci-fi conventions and tried to set itself apart from what most others were doing. This is completely the reverse of what ST09 did which was to embrace sci-fi cliches and mimic what everyone is doing.
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Old March 14 2011, 01:34 AM   #14
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

Warped9 wrote: View Post
^^ I think you're being unfair. I understand your view, but considering the time when the episode was made it's difficult to assess what they thought they could and could not get away with.
Who is "they?" Roddenberry? It seems clear from the accounts of others (as well as internal production memos) that the restraints as to what he could "get away with" were greatly exaggerated.

Consider also that some of the sexism isn't apparent until "The Cage" is finally seen in its complete form many years later. Before that all we saw of it was in "The Menagerie" two-parter where Pike's comments on the bridge had been edited out.
That is interesting, actually, and suggestive that Roddenberry may have had second thoughts. Is that true in the non-syndicated version of the episode as well?

Yes, other shows were making inroads with women, but it was still early goings and not everyone was on the same page.
No, but it seems that NBC was on the same page, and I doubt the studio owned by Lucille Ball was about to complain about a female co-star or women in a position of authority.

I disagree that "The Cage" is too cerebral and more like TNG. TNG has never been more cerebral than TOS. It simply had a different style. And the main distinction between "The Cage" and TOS is style and the lack of TOS' character dynamic.
Considering Kirk's propensity for fist-fights, and Picard's propensity for talking problems out, I don't think the distinction is an incorrect one (though, at times, it is no doubt exaggerated).
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Old March 14 2011, 01:44 AM   #15
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Re: Revisiting Star Trek TOS/TAS...

A couple of things I overlooked mentioning. First was that I liked the music in the episode. Most particularly I liked this first version of Alexander Courage's opening theme.

The second thing that occurs to me that with some additional footage, including some more ship exteriors with lighting, I think it might have been interesting to see how this would have done if released theatrically, assuming it hadn't sold as a series.
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