'Star Trek' Only Saved Captain Pike Out Of Cheapness
These days, there are more Star Trek shows on TV than you can shake a Klingon painstik at, the newest being Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, which chronicles the adventures of the Enterprise crew under the command of Christopher Pike; the Starfleet Captain who preceded James T. Kirk (and presumably racked up way fewer H.R. complaints).
The character of Pike was originally played by Jeffrey Hunter and famously first appeared in the original Star Trek pilot “The Cage,” – which wasn’t exactly a slam dunk with network executives. Why didn’t Hunter reprise the role for the follow-up pilot? Well, he either quit to pursue his film career or, according to William Shatner, was fired because his wife was super-annoying.
After Shatner took over as the show’s lead, it certainly wasn’t a given that Star Trek would acknowledge that Pike ever existed – that would be like Full House devoting an entire episode to explaining how Danny Tanner once had extensive plastic surgery.
But because coming up with wacky space stories every week is hard work (hence the episode where McCoy chases down a giant bunny rabbit) towards the end of the first season, Star Trek producer Robert Justman suggested airing the original pilot to “tide us over until we get more scripts.” It would also give the show some cost-free production value; because the pilot was so expensive, at one point there had even been plans to turn “The Cage” into a TV movie, or possibly a feature film.
In order to make sense of the discrepancies in continuity, the old footage was presented as an extended flashback, housed within a tense present-day story in which Captain Pike is now horribly scarred and bound to a beeping wheelchair – so the human race has mastered matter disintegration and faster-than-light travel, but can’t come up with a better communication system for this poor guy other than a mobile porta-potty that beeps once for “yes” and twice for “no?” Really?
This particular plot point (which, incidentally, is of major importance in Strange New Worlds) was only created because Jeffrey Hunter refused to film additional scenes as Pike, which is why we got a story that allowed another actor to play the part under heavy make-up and a giant facial scar shaped like the Falkland Islands. Amazingly this convoluted plan to cut costs and buy time resulted in an acclaimed two-part episode that welcomed Pike into Star Trek canon – and it also gave us the second-most depressing Star Trek Christmas ornament of all time.
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Top Image: CBS Studios