Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Menagerie Part I

It's time to play, Gene Roddenberry for a Day. The rules are simple. Pretend Where No Man Has Gone Before was the first Star Trek pilot and think of an envelope story to wrap around the footage and pad it out to two episodes.

Why, Where No Man Has Gone Before? Only because the actual first pilot The Cage was the basis for The Menagerie. To get some idea of the difficulties Roddenberry faced it's necessary to choose an episode where we can't watch his solution. And Roddenberry's solution is inventive. Robert Justman first suggested turning the unbroadcast 78 minutes of The Cage into a two part story but it's Roddenberry, the writer, who deals with the problem of making sense out of a story featuring a different cast, set, and production style.

The Menagerie (at least the portion of the script not recycling footage from The Cage) is also the first story completely scripted and filmed since Star Trek began broadcasting on 8th September 1966. This is significant because it becomes the first story made against the background of public reaction to the series, and the public reaction was Spockmania! According to Leonard Nimoy's autobiography I Am Spock -and other cast and production people confirm this- by week five there were “laundry bags full of mail” coming in for Mr. Spock. Week five would be the week of broadcast of The Enemy Within, and according to records the Monday of that week, October 3rd, is the date on the first draft of The Menagerie. Now, Spock is the only character carried forwards from The Cage, so it is inevitable Gene Roddenberry's envelope script would be Spock heavy but The Menagerie Part I almost seems to fetishise him.

Star Trek has already established a lot of information about Vulcans. The mind meld was introduced in Dagger Of The Mind, and the nerve pinch in The Enemy Within. Miri established Spock was physiologically different to humans, and every episode seems to drive home Spock's emotionless nature. The most Spock heavy episode of the first series, The Galileo Seven, has been filmed but not yet broadcast. Despite all this I find it hard to think of anything to compare to the two scenes in The Menagerie Part I where Spock sends false orders to the Enterprise.

Spock creeps into the computer room on Starbase 11 and incapacitates one member of staff with a nerve pinch. He is finalising his fake message to the Enterprise when he is challenged by Chief Humbolt. Spock fights him off, takes several heavy blows to the head, nerve pinches Humbolt as well, and then uses faked messages from Captain Kirk to trick the Enterprise into accepting his new orders. Plus we get two scenes emphasising Spock's loyalty and Vulcan nature; one where Kirk defends Spock to Commodore Mendez's aide, the other where McCoy defends Spock to Kirk (a change from the normally antagonistic McCoy/Spock relationship). We've been told in the past that Spock is different to humans; smarter, stronger, more intelligent. The tone feels slightly changed here, as if we are just being told Spock is great.

Roddenberry could have felt these scenes were necessary to make Spock's betrayal of Kirk credible and to demonstrate he could hijack the Enterprise alone, or this might be a series creator responding to the first flashes of fan enthusiasm and grateful at least one element of his series is an undisputed hit. Whatever the explanation, after this point William Shatner will have to share the lead actor position with Leonard Nimoy. This is the beginning of the path leading to Nimoy's demand for a second series pay rise so large the producers consider replacing him, the Shatner-Nimoy feud (the seriousness of which depends on whose account you listen to), and the 1967 album Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock's Music From Outer Space.

A modern audience will never be able to watch Star Trek in the same way the original audience did but that's especially true here. For the original audience the highlight of The Menagerie Part I must have been the first few scenes from The Cage which take up the last 15 minutes of the episode. Not knowing their source it must have looked as if the production team had hired a whole new cast, redesigned the sets, and then taken care to shoot the footage differently. I spent ages trying to work out why the old Enterprise bridge looks so dull. It's because The Cage was not lit by series director of photography Jerry Finnerman who memorably used enormous splashes of colour to light the sets. It's hard to believe The Cage was filmed in 1964. It looks ancient compared to The Menagerie footage. The script tells us the events of The Cage took place 13 years previously, and this is mostly to distance Nimoy's not quite there performance, at one point he even cracks a smile, but it really does look as if it was filmed in 1951. When blonde haired navigator José Tyler puts on a blue blazer-like top to go planetside he looks so square he only seems to be missing an “I LIKE IKE” badge.

Kirk and Mendez take a shuttle to catch up with the Enterprise, the first time we see one of these crafts on screen, but the shuttle was built for The Galileo Seven filmed two episodes previously. Once again resources spent on another episode end up making The Menagerie look more lavish. And that's the main triumph of The Menagerie Part I. Gene Roddenberry takes an unpromising brief and turns it into something entertaining. A quick, cheap, and mechanical story, with no goal beyond getting the cast into a position where they, and the audience, can watch edited highlights of The Cage, turns out to be very watchable. 

Enterprise crew deaths: None. Spock's takeover of the Enterprise is a bloodless coup.
Running total: 19


As well as The Menagerie, two other things helped Star Trek claw back some lost production time. The Corbomite Maneuver had been made as the first episode in regular production but held back until week ten. Then, Star Trek was preempted on Thursday 1st December for an episode of The Jack Benny Hour (which you can see here, complete with “Star Trek will not be presented tonight...” announcement, and groovy NBC “living color” logo). However time ran out on 22nd December when the series took an unscheduled break and What Are Little Girls Made Of? was repeated.

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