Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Star Trek TOS: The Menagerie Part 1

Star Trek TOS: The Menagerie Pt. 1

Commodore Mendez: “His wheelchair is constructed to respond to his brainwaves. Oh, he can turn it. Move it forwards. Backwards slightly…”
Ms. Piper: “With a flashing light, he can say yes or no.”
Commodore Mendez: “But, that’s it, Jim. That’s as much as that poor devil can do.”

- Commodore Mendez describing Captain Pike’s condition to Kirk.

The Enterprise is diverted to Starbase 11 after receiving a distress call. It’s later revealed that no such distress call was made, and someone was toying with computer records. It couldn’t have been Captain Pike, says Commodore Mendes, because of his condition after his old “J-style” starship exploded, and Dr. McCoy mutters a question about “Delta rays”. Apart from this meaningless techno babble, it’s discovered that Captain Pike is now in a wheelchair! (He’s a disfigured head on a black dolly, with some blinking lights.)
Whatever we think of this scene, realize this was 1966. As far I know, Star Trek invented the concept of a power wheelchair. Of course, the real reason it had such limited range was that they didn’t have the budget, and they needed to make Pike look injured and hideous. Spock asks to remain with Captain Pike, and reveals that he served with him 13 years ago, on the Enterprise’s journey to Talos IV; now a banned planet. Pike doesn’t want Spock to take him back there (i.e. he blinks “No!” repeatedly.) But, Spock is insistent that he return to Talos IV for some reason.
Undeterred by Pike’s refusal to go, Spock falsifies record tapes that put him in command of the Enterprise, and he sets course for the banned planet. This puzzles Captain Kirk and McCoy, (But, especially peeves Kirk!) and McCoy says it couldn’t be Spock because Vulcans don’t lie, and don’t have emotions! McCoy is also sympathetic to Pike: “Now, that man can think anything we can, and love, hope, dream as much as we can. But he can't reach out and no one can reach in!" Realizing the only one who could’ve had access to the Enterprise computers was Spock, Kirk jumps into a shuttlecraft with Commodore Mendez, and arrests Spock. Spock willingly and logically turns himself over on charges of mutiny.
Now, before we get to the courtroom scene, which is the climax of the episode, let me explain why I like this episode, despite that Captain Pike seems to be the object of pity. First off, that’s what I don’t like about it. But secondly, all the characters respond to Captain Pike as a captain. A man of honor. And Spock wants a better life for his former friend and captain, and reveals his emotions to do so. McCoy seems genuinely moved and concerned, and Kirk seems able to recognize the passion within him (“now a shell of a man…”), which leads to him to hear the rest of Spock’s testimony in court. Despite being royally angry that Spock took his ship. Lastly, it’s a huge episode for a little sci-fi show in 1966; establishing continuity, using several sets, and revealing important character traits, like Spock’s emotions towards Pike.
The episode ends with Kirk and Mendez in court with Spock. Spock plays video from 13 years ago that explain Pike’s voyage, beamed directly from Talos IV. Mendez doesn’t want to continue, but Kirk wants to see the rest. Spock reminds them there is one more officer in the room who must vote. Captain Pike, who blinks “yes.” to continue. Star Trek has always been about a hopeful vision of the future, and that said, I give this episode credit for “inventing” a power chair. Also, for developing the characters through discussion of friendship and disability…but not yet disability rights, which were virtually unheard of in the 1960s! What wonders and horrors befell Captain Pike on Talos IV? Tune in tomorrow for my review of part 2!

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