Roddenberry had something to prove. Actually, two things: that Star Trek would be affordable, and that it would be exciting. For the former, he simply reused every scrap he could from the first pilot. For the latter, he dumbed it down a few notches and gave up any pretensions of art. The strategy worked beautifully, but that is not to say that the result is of much genuine merit.
In fact, the story doesn't bear up well under scrutiny, and the script is positively B-movie quality. Despite a good introduction to the series regulars, the guests are written in one dimension only -- Mitchell as an overgrown adolescent, and Dehner as a scientist with almost no pulse. These were all probably calculated choices on Roddenberry's part, realizing that the suits needed to see something simple and familiar which they could sell to sponsors, and knowing that once the sale was made, he'd be free to return to his original goals.
Thus, the plot is likewise quite simple: A crewmember gains superpowers that could destroy the ship. It's a premise rooted firmly in the sci-fi concept of superpowers, and that concept trumps all inclinations toward character. It doesn't help that the action is set in motion by a sort of phenomena-of-the-week, ESP. In 1965, this was exotic enough that elaborate dialogue had to be staged to explain it to the viewer, and sufficiently unfamiliar that it seemed vaguely futuristic. But the device has aged very badly, and wasn't really necessary to set things in motion (only to explain who got zapped). Add to it the galactic barrier nonsense (which the series would inexplicably return to several times), and you have a B-movie setup (complete with Mysterious Zapping and Glowing Eyes) which really was about 10 years too late. Again, this was for the benefit of the suits, and Roddenberry et. al. knew squarely what they were doing.
So the action is decidedly predictable. With no character nuance, Mitchell is a monster from the point he is struck by lightning in the teaser. This could have been different if he showed even a small amount of fear and/or regret. It would have made perfect sense for him to confess, without words, his fear of what he was becoming, and then give it voice by asking for Kirk's help while weakened. This could have even led to a better solution to the problem where Kirk and crew try to figure out if there is any way to cure him. As it is, we never feel for the character, and none of the panting about loyalty to a friend has any impact. Kirk has no real choice to make. Mitchell must be destroyed to save the ship, and the only question for the viewer is how it will happen.
Imagine a slightly different take along the lines just mentioned. With Mitchell alternately testing his new powers and fearing/abhorring them, we might actually root for him. His earlier pseudo-adolescent exterior could be revealed as bravado, and we might meet a more complex character who is trying to maintain that image while dealing with what has happened. Kirk and Spock might then be motivated to try and find a cure (rather than controlling, containing, or destroying him -- which are the only options they consider in this script). Everyone, including Dehner (who realizes she is following Mitchell's pattern), starts to search frantically for a solution which will return him to normal, perhaps even encountering the galactic barrier again (reusing the same opticals, of course). When they cannot get it solved before Gary's human side disappears and he grows beyond their ability to contain him, then Kirk must make his decision: contain and continue searching or kill his friend. When Kirk must kill him, we might actually feel for both characters.
The difference between the two ways to tell the story is just a matter of dialogue and acting. Unfortunately, the episode becomes a chase with a murderous mad man. In the final scene, there is some attempt to inject an issue, but it is too little too late. Kirk confronts Mitchell, but is really just fighting for his life. The combat outweighs any heady issues which might be interesting.
Though the script is a let-down, many of the changes since the first pilot genuinely improve the product. The crew is all-new. In place of the stoic and intense Pike is an easy-going, amiable and even mischievious Kirk. Interestingly, the Kirk we would come to know is almost fully present here, which is a tribute to Shatner (who had very little in the script to work with, just conversations with Roddenberry). He's in command but listens. He's jovial, but always in charge. He's got fists and he knows how to use them (using his lips would come in time). He's a hands-on sort, not eager to delegate. He's a natural diplomat and something of an everyman. Unlike Pike, there is nothing tired or disillusioned about Kirk. As a result, the ship and crew have a looser feel, notably less formal. He also has a big gun (which works this time).
Spock assumes the role of First Officer and the allegedly-emotionless nature previously assigned to Number One (and despite that, still manages to smile broadly in the very first scene). The new doctor looks much like the old one, as do the captain's yeoman and the helmsman. Scotty joins the crew, as does Sulu, albeit in a different role. The kernel of an ensemble is established, though some of the parts will have to be swapped out later to make it actually work.
The Enterprise sets have been spiffed up quite a bit. The addition of red is quite welcome as it gives everything a life that it simply did not have in the first pilot. It's noticeable first in the corridors, then on the bridge. The uniform colors are still not quite right, and that would be a necessary adjustment for the sets to really sing. It's a good example of how multiple disciplines must come together in order to create an integrated success.
The briefing room set appears to have undergone major changes, but these would be lost when the move was made to their permanent sound stage. The planet set is redressed (perhaps recreated is a better term), and the craggy mountains still look great. And the beginnings of sickbay are seen, along with the miraculous diagnostic bed, one of the things which will make this show sing.
The optical effects are also much improved. Enterprise fly-bys have lost all of their awkwardness, and the transporter effect has been finalized. There are nice animated effects when Mitchell uses his power, and the detention force field is well done. The phaser rifle effect appears to be a reuse of the laser cannon effect, which is economical and works well. Likewise, sound effects are already fully mature (despite the fact that reverb is again overused).
Shatner's acting, as mentioned, is superb. Nimoy has a harder task, and still doesn't have a feel for Spock. This would come after six or seven episodes. Beyond that, it is the guest stars who have the most to do. Lockwood does what is asked of him. It is a two-note performance for a two-note character. Kellerman has virtually nothing to go on with her character, and has at least one inexplicable line ("Line included." Try as I might, I simply don't get the joke here.). She and Lockwood have very little chemistry, so the desired romantic tone is never achieved. She performs nicely in the closing scenes, but it's hard to feel for her character because we know so little about her.
Still, despite its flaws, this has to be considered classic Trek. The series would build on both of its pilots, combining their best elements with Roddenberry's vision, and telling many human stories within its own context. Best of all, this episode got the job done. It proved that the concept was viable financially and creatively. For this we must be grateful.
Rating: Top (2)
Fair enough; if you first viewed The Cage and subsequently Where No Man Has Gone Before, you might find a nod towards the mainstream. But this episode, as you write, had little to guide it and truly it’s a cracking 50 minutes of drama. On one other nuance Lockwood and Kellerman arguably have great chemistry; her sorrow as she dies appears in part at least mourning a lost dream of a shared future, perhaps as a god, yep, or maybe simply, in love.
Posted January 23, 2012 06:54 AM by Philip2014
This is easy to explain:
"MITCHELL: Improving the breed, Doctor? Is that your line?
DEHNER: I heard that's more your specialty, Commander, line included."
A guy uses a line on a girl, and she stops him flat -- and mentions how played his 'line' is. He can pull that crap with an Ensign, but not with her, not if she's to maintain her officer status.
Posted October 27, 2012 7:56 PM by cgeye