“The Cage”: Star Trek’s Awesome Awful Pilot

Hey there Star Trek fans, and welcome to a new post series! I’ve started a massive watch/rewatch of all six Trek shows at one episode per day, and thanks to our generous admins here on Comparative Geeks, I’ll be posting about Star Trek every first Saturday. Perma-spoiler warning, and screenshots are my own.

Star Trek The Cage screenshot

If you go to Netflix to watch the original Star Trek, the first thing you see is not the successful pilot, and neither is it the first episode seen on television. It is instead Star Trek‘s first pilot, “The Cage,” with an almost entirely different cast and very different feel from the show that followed after it. Usually when people watch it, they make endless jokes about its inexplicable rejection in favor of the second version we know and love.

I was already quite familiar with “The Cage” because of its later reuse in “The Menagerie,” but I started watching, when lo and behold — dialogue I hadn’t heard before! Netflix is offering not just the edited footage, but the full original episode, including cut dialogue. Not to mention the full ending, designed to keep Captain Christopher Pike for a whole projected series! While I never found the original pilot to be as awful as people say, I’ve often wondered if I would’ve watched the original vision for Star Trek. After seeing “The Cage” in full, I actually appreciate it a lot more.

The original cut had better pacing, for one thing. Glimpses of a larger universe, like a shot of Pike’s fellow prisoner, were removed for “The Menagerie” because Star Trek didn’t have to worry about hooking an audience for the long game anymore. With those shots and casual mentions retained, though, the confined tone of the episode opens up with promise.

Star Trek The Cage alien screenshot

If you find this exciting, you may be a huge nerd.

On the other hand, much of the cut dialogue consisted of incredibly sexist comments. I mean, Star Trek has always had its problems, but these were so egregious that I had to replay several of them just to make sure I’d heard properly.

  • Pike gets irritated with his yeoman bringing a report to the bridge as he’d ordered her to do, saying: “She does a good job, all right. It’s just that I can’t get used to having a woman on the bridge.”
  • “Funny how they are on this planet. They actually like being taken advantage of.” A Starfleet high-up in reference to an enslaved woman.
  • Number One, a woman who “doesn’t count” as a woman on the bridge, was being set up as a potential romantic interest for Pike. All well and good, she’s pretty much made of awesome, but the alien magistrate feels the need to undermine her intellect: “Although she seems to lack emotion, this is largely a pretense. She has often has fantasies involving you.”

This is not to say that ALL the sexist comments were removed. Not by a long shot. But these three are distinctly more explicit than the others, so I find it curious that these three were cut, especially since some of them involved snipping those exact phrases and no others. The rationale may be the same as cutting the alien — A possible Pike/One relationship didn’t matter anymore, since Number One wasn’t appearing in the new show. Maybe it indicates that Star Trek‘s creators, progressive in many ways, were actually behind their own times since the lines were cut for public viewing.

Star Trek The Cage women screenshot

The projected show appearing from these glimpses has its pros — the idealistic space exploration we know and love, for instance — but also its cons, namely tooth-grating sexism. An interesting show, to say the least, and I still can’t decide if I’d watch it. What do you think?

While we’ll never get to see what could’ve been, but we have some reasonable imaginings in the form of licensed novels and comics. For Pike-era lore and the names of major novels, go here on Memory Alpha. For a more complete list of appearances, visit this page on Memory Beta. 

6 responses to ““The Cage”: Star Trek’s Awesome Awful Pilot

  1. Reblogged this on Things Matter and commented:

    I’ve got a new series about Star Trek on Comparative Geeks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I showed this one for my kids and they were just confused. I’m glad Pike didn’t work out, but it’s a fun what if game to play.


    • Yeah, I remember thinking it was boring when I was a kid. Some of the episodes I found the most boring when I was young are now the richest, but I still prefer the “real” version with the bright colors. 🙂


  3. That was probably Roddenberry’s personal views bubbling to the surface; he was very much a man of his time, in both good ways and bad. I’d like to tell you it gets better, but “Turnabout intrruder” (the final original Trek episode), made after Roddenberry left, makes the original “Cage” seem positively enlightened …


  4. Pingback: Star Trek’s Subversive Lady Guest Stars – Comparative Geeks

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