"The Cage" is the original pilot episode of the Star Trek science fiction franchise. It was made in 1964, but never broadcast on television until 1988. The episode was written by Gene Roddenberry and directed by Robert Butler.
- Jeffrey Hunter : Captain Christopher Pike
- Susan Oliver : Vina
- Leonard Nimoy : Mr. Spock
- Majel Barrett : Number One
- John Hoyt : Dr. Phillip Boyce
- Peter Duryea : Lieutenant Jose Tyler
- Laurel Goodwin : Yeoman J.M. Colt
"The Cage" had most of the essential features of Star Trek, but many differences in cast and terminology. The Captain of the starship USS Enterprise was not James T. Kirk, but Christopher Pike. Mr. Spock was present, but not as First Officer. That role was taken by a character known only as Number One, played by Majel Barrett. Spock's character differs somewhat from that seen in the rest of Star Trek: he displays much more emotion than usual.
NBC reportedly called the pilot "too cerebral", "too intellectual", "not enough action", and "too slow", but rather than rejecting the series outright the network commissioned (in an unusual move) a second pilot: "Where No Man Has Gone Before". Rather than abandon the expensive footage, much of the footage was recycled in the later Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Menagerie", a two part episode, which revisited the events of the plot, and made it part of the continuity of the rest of the series. (The title of the original episode was changed from "The Cage" to the more accurate "The Menagerie" early on, but to distinguish it from the later two-parter, the original title is used.)
The process of editing ended up destroying what was thought to be the only known color print of the episode. For many decades, a print of the original pilot combining color footage from "The Menagerie" with black-and-white footage of the "lost" scenes taken from Roddenberry's all black-and-white print was shown at conventions and later used for early video releases of "The Cage". It was only in the late 1980s that a full-color print was discovered in Paramount's archives.
The events of "The Cage" take place 13 years before Captain Kirk takes the helm of the Enterprise. There was also no stardate given.
The USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, receives a radio distress call from the fourth planet in the Talos star system. A landing party is assembled and beamed down to investigate. Tracking the distress signal to its source, the landing party discovers a camp of survivors from a scientific expedition that has been missing for 18 years. Among the survivors is a beautiful human female named Vina.
Drowned by her beauty, Pike becomes concerned for Vina's well being and urges her to leave the planet with him. Soon however, Pike is caught off guard and is captured by the Talosians, a race of humanoids with bulbous shaped heads that live beneath the planet's surface. It is revealed that the distress call, and the crash survivors, except for Vina, are just illusions created by the Talosians to lure the Enterprise to the planet. While being imprisoned, Pike uncovers the Talosian's plans to repopulate their ravaged planet using himself and Vina as breeding stock for a healthier and more powerful generation of their race.
The Talosians try to use their power of illusion to interest Pike in Vina, and present her in various guises and settings, first as a Rigellian princess, a loving compassionate farm girl, then a sleazy, green-skinned Orion slave girl. Pike resists all forms, so the Talosians lure Pike's female first officer and female yeoman down from the Enterprise to offer further temptation. By then however, Pike discovers that his primitive human emotions can neutralize the Talosians' ability to read his mind, and he manages to escape to the surface of the planet along with his landing party.
The Talosians confront Pike and his companions before they can beam up, but the captain refuses to negotiate, even threatening to kill himself and the others rather than submit to the Talosians' demands. Frightened at losing their only hope in their future, the Talosians analyze the Enterprise's records and realize the human race is far too "independent" to be of adequate use to them.
Faced with no other options, the Talosians let the humans go. The others beam up, but Pike remains behind with Vina, urging her to leave with him. Vina then claims she is unable to leave the planet. It is discovered that an expedition had indeed crash landed on Talos IV, and Vina was the sole survivor. She was badly injured however, and left horribly disfigured, but with the aid of the Talosians' illusions, she is able to appear beautiful and in good health.
Realizing that the continued Talosian illusion of health and beauty is necessary for Vina, Pike returns to the Enterprise, but in an act of good will, the aliens send the captain an image of Vina on the starship's viewscreen. Not only is she beautiful again, but by her side is another illusion, that of the handsome Christopher Pike.
- The episode featured the first appearance of green-skinned Orion Slave Girls. An episode of Star Trek: Enterprise titled Borderland, broadcast in 29 October 2004, featured the first on-screen appearance of male Orions, 40 years after their species was first mentioned.
- The uniforms worn by Starfleet personnel differ in one substantial way from most future series in that the outfit includes a hat or a cap, though no one is shown wearing one in this film. (One can be seen in Pike's quarters). The idea of a cap being part of the Starfleet uniform would be revived (in an on-again, off-again manner) in the prequel series, Star Trek: Enterprise, which takes place roughly a century earlier than The Cage.
- Jeffrey Hunter was invited to return as Capt. Pike in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" but declined, opening the door for William Shatner to be cast as Captain Kirk. Hunter subsequently died in an accident in 1969, leaving Trek fans to ponder how different the later revival of Trek might have been had Hunter continued into the series, if a revival even happened.
- A later episode of the Star Trek series, "The Menagerie", would establish that the events of The Cage take place about 11 years prior to the series, or 13 years prior to "The Menagerie".
- Gene Roddenberry considered, at this early stage, having Starfleet be basically a civilian-oriented space service which had no need for ranks. (This is why, in 'The Cage', most officers on the ship wear the same insignia - a single gold stripe on the sleeve - regardless of their shipboard duties.) However, by the time the actual series came to be made, Starfleet was clearly established as being based on the military, specifically the rank system and structure of the United States Navy.