Star Trek: Where No Man Has Gone Before

Kirk: "Did you hear him joke about compassion? Above all else, a god needs compassion."

In 1965, they made a pilot for a show called Star Trek. It was entitled "The Cage" and starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike, Majel Barrett as Number One, and Leonard Nimoy as Mister Spock. The network thought it was "too cerebral" (maybe it was the aliens with the big heads) but they liked the general idea and in an unprecedented move, ordered a second pilot. Jeffrey Hunter turned it down, and every part was recast – except for Spock. "Where No Man Has Gone Before" is the second pilot, and it really should have aired first in Star Trek's original run. It's actually pretty damned good.

Gary Lockwood (2001: A Space Odyssey) and Sally Kellerman (M*A*S*H) gave fine performances as Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell and Doctor Elizabeth Dehner, two crew members who were hit with something that slowly turned them into superbeings. At first, it seemed that it was just Mitchell; his eyes turned silver and his intelligence increased exponentially as he acquired telepathic and telekinetic powers. Even though Mitchell initially called her a "walking freezer unit," Dr. Dehner was fascinated by Mitchell's changes and, as Kirk became more and more alarmed by Mitchell, who was formerly his closest friend, she hotly defended him and talked about how a mutated, highly advanced superhuman could be a wonderful thing.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. When Mitchell became uncontainable, it was Dehner who saved the day as she heroically sacrificed herself to stop Mitchell. (When I was a kid, I always loved the scene where they zapped each other with their hands.) It's also interesting that Dehner, a psychiatrist, was the most professional woman we'd seen yet on the series. She made mistakes and misjudged the situation with Mitchell, but she atoned for her error with her life.

I was never clear on why Kirk didn't just leave the two of them on Delta Vega, which was his original plan. Was it fear that the two would become so powerful that an entire planet couldn't contain them? Justice for killing Kelso? The message of "Where No Man Has Gone Before" is that there's hubris connected with this adventuring into space thing. If we grow more intelligent and powerful, does that mean that someday we will no longer be human?

This episode looks a lot different than the rest of the series: the cast, the Enterprise accoutrements, the costumes. The female crew members were in pants, which was refreshing and practical and I really wish they'd kept it that way. Spock's eyebrows and hairstyle were different, and his characterization was rough and over the top ("Ah, yes, one of your Earth emotions"); he barked orders to the crew, and mentioned that "one of his ancestors" married a human female. It's disconcerting when you compare it to the cool, unemotional superman that he ultimately becomes.

Ben says...

For years I have been hearing the popular idea that this second pilot for Star Trek was inferior to "The Cage." Any good Trekker (notice how I establish my nerd street cred by using the proper term) will scoff at the "suits" at NBC who declared the first pilot too cerebral, thus implicitly stating that Americans (Trekkers included) just couldn't handle anything brainy. I disagree. I think the suits weren't right about why (do we actually know that anyone ever really said "too cerebral"?) but they were right about which pilot was superior.

Here's why. Good science fiction is basically counter-cultural. It makes us look inside even when its predictions for the universe are inaccurate. It may not seem obvious in retrospect but this pilot was wildly countercultural in that it brought together the military-industrial silent majority types and the hippy voyage of the mind sixties intellectuals. It's the story of a band of red-blooded peaceniks, strong-jawed adventurer scientists. It's integrated in an era when xenophobia was the rule, when people were looking at the other with fire hoses and police dogs or nuclear missiles between them. "The Cage" WAS too cerebral; "Where No Man Has Gone Before" was the science fiction we needed at the time.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 1312.4, much earlier than the previous two episodes that aired. The Enterprise was approaching an energy barrier at the outer reaches of the galaxy. They retrieved data from the destroyed S.S. Valiant, and tried to strand Mitchell on Delta-Vega, an uninhabited mining planet.

— I really liked the library on computer; it's such an obvious thing to have in the future, and we're actually closing on it now. The only flaw was that the books were on those colorful little rectangles that were supposed to be like computer disks. No hard drives in the future, huh?

— The tombstone that Mitchell created for Kirk gave his full name as James R. Kirk, and his birth and death dates as 1277.1 to 1313.7. If those are standard Earth years, that would make Kirk 36. Later, it is established that Kirk's middle name is Tiberius and he's younger than that. Maybe Mitchell just remembered it wrong.

— Gary Lockwood, who mostly did a great job as Mitchell, looked uncomfortable pushing buttons at the navigation console. George Takei always made it look real.

— Anyone who is into nitpicking would have a field day with the data sheets about Mitchell and Dehner on Spock's view screen.

— The contact lenses that Mitchell and Dehner wore looked really uncomfortable, but I think they made them work.

— No McCoy; the doctor was called Piper. Sulu was there, but not in his usual job. Lt. Kelso from Engineering was killed by Mitchell.


— I met Gary Lockwood a few years ago at a science fiction convention. He had a table and was talking to fans and selling autographs. He started to explain who he was, and my friend Judy interrupted and said, "We're old enough to know who you are," which I thought was just hilarious. We introduced ourselves and had a nice and fairly long conversation with him. Later in the day, when I was in a very long autograph line, Mr. Lockwood walked by, saw me, stopped, and without a word, handed me a cookie. This was one of my more interesting celebrity encounters.

Three out of four silver contact lenses,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

2 comments:

Mark Greig said...

I've always preferred ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’ to the ‘The Cage’.

This is the type of Star Trek I love, intelligent science fiction mixed with boy’s own adventure as Kirk gets into his first classic punch up with Super-Mitchell, complete with torn shirt and exposed man boob.

GreenHornet said...

"...too cerebral" -- HAH! That's funny! And sadly it may well be true, as you cannot possibly overestimate the mental underachievement of the average network exec. (For which see the original broadcast sequence etc of Firefly, to name but one horrible example.)

But back to cerebral. Man, wasn't THAT a theme of the show and the times! Think of the brains in jars that take over Kirk, Spock and dear Diana Muldaur; the 'kwatlu' gamesters of Triskelion; wasn't there a giant brain in space at one point? The 1960's sure had brains on the brain!

Of course it goes earlier than Star Trek (Donovan's Brain, for example): but what was The Up With That?

-- Lovely review, Billie. (And as a kid watching this show first-run in the 60's, I remember being very unsettled by those damn silver contact lenses! It nicely evoked some similar effects from The Outer Limits; and I mean, when you're talking with these godwannabies, where do you LOOK?)