Captain Christopher Pike.
With Star Trek: Picard on hiatus and Star Trek: Discovery‘s 3rd season slated to return (sometime?) this year, I thought it might be a good opportunity to explore the prospects for a possible new Star Trek series, headlined by none other than Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter/Bruce Greenwood/Anson Mount), the captain of the USS Enterprise who preceded James T. Kirk in TOS Star Trek (“The Cage” “The Menagerie”), and was seen in the Bad Robot ‘Kelvinverse’ Star Trek movie trilogy (2009-2016) as well as the second season of CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery (2019). Introducing a new series of Pike adventures is also a tad ironic, since Pike was the very first Star Trek captain from the original unsold TOS pilot, “The Cage”, which was later repurposed as flashback footage in the TOS two-parter, “The Menagerie.” Pike was originally envisioned by Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry as the archetypal Star Trek captain, though he tends to be a bit more melancholy and less effusive than his replacement, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner). If anything, Pike is much closer in temperament to Star Trek: The Next Generation’s captain, Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart).
In TOS’ original pilot “The Cage” (1964) we see Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) and the Enterprise’s voyage to Talos IV, a subsequently forbidden planet populated by a dying race of dangerous telepaths with an awesome power to project illusions. In season one’s “The Menagerie” (1966), written by series’ creator/producer Gene Roddenberry, we learn of the former Enterprise skipper’s gruesome fate; the once athletic man is left disabled and mutilated (Sean Kenney) following a disaster in the engineering section of a training vessel. In two of the three Bad Robot movies, Captain and later Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) trains and mentors Starfleet cadets (including a rebellious young James Kirk) until his assassination by Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) in 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness.” All of the actors who’ve played Pike paint a generally similar portrait of the man; raised in a reclaimed 23rd century Mojave (no longer a desert wilderness), Pike is a no-nonsense, intuitive commander with an eye for recognizing future Starfleet talent (Spock, Kirk) and possessing a wry wit. He also shoulders deep guilt and personal responsibility for any deaths under his command, to the point of considering resigning after his landing party experienced heavy losses on Rigel 7. Until Star Trek: Discovery’s second season, not much was known about the man himself. While Discovery added many new pieces to Christopher Pike’s canon, there is still much of the character left to explore…
In The Beginning…
I’ve written about the Star Trek’s original 1964 pilot episode “The Cage” in a previous piece (Have you ever piloted a Star Trek out of spacedock? Part 1), so I won’t rehash the synopsis of that story here. However, I’d like to go over a few points in-depth for their potential relevance in a new (possible) Pike series.
In both “The Cage” and “Star Trek: Discovery” (DSC), we meet a few members of Pike’s command crew; there is his first officer, enigmatically known only as “Number One” (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry/Rebecca Romijn), science officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy/Ethan Peck) and others who’ve come and apparently gone since the days of “The Cage,” including navigator Jose Tyler (Peter Duryea), Yeoman Colt (Laurel Goodwin) and most importantly, his friend and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Philip Boyce (John Holt). In DSC we meet a few others who come and go, but Pike’s core group seems to be himself, Number One and Mr. Spock. Boyce wasn’t seen in DSC, so it isn’t entirely clear if he is still the CMO of Enterprise following the events of “The Cage”, just as it’s not clear whether navigator Tyler is still aboard the ship. In TOS Star Trek, we often saw relief helmsman and navigators filling in for both Sulu and Chekov, so it’s entirely possible those characters just weren’t seen during the events chronicled in DSC S2. TOS Star Trek also featured another ship’s doctor, Dr. M’Benga (Booker Bradshaw) who was seen in a couple episodes (“A Private Little War” “That Which Survives”), yet he never replaced McCoy as CMO.
We also see Pike’s close friendship with his “bartender” Dr. Boyce, which echoes the future relationship seen with Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) with the younger captain finding a confidant/friend in the older, world-weary ship’s doctor. This would be an interesting yet familiar relationship to explore in a future Pike series. And if Boyce has left the Enterprise at this point in the ship’s history, then who is the new Enterprise CMO? Would Pike share a similar affinity with his new (as yet unknown) doctor, or would their relationship be entirely different? Either possibility would be fresh ground for exploration in a future Pike series.
Another aspect that would differentiate a future Pike series from past Star Treks is that we already know the fate of this particular starship captain before the end of the series. Sometime after his command of the USS Enterprise, Pike is left crippled and horribly burned following an engineering accident on an old “Class-J” training starship. DSC goes a step further when Pike (Anson Mount) uses a sacred Klingon ‘time crystal’ to gain much-needed insight into the future of his current mission aboard the starship Discovery (“Through the Valley of the Shadows”). Using the crystal also gives Pike an unwanted glimpse into his own fixed and unalterable future. Armed with the knowledge that his life will be take a horrific turn in the years ahead, Pike chooses to heed Dr. Boyce’s sage advice; “A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head on and licks it, or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away.” Pike knows what will happen to him; he can’t avoid it (though exactly why he can’t avoid it isn’t made fully clear). This foreshadowing of his fate explains some of the melancholy we see in the character going forward. But, like his half-Vulcan science officer Spock, Pike tries to keep that part of himself locked away and invisible to his current crews (of the starships Discovery and Enterprise). Having a captain with a predestined, inviolable future would also be new territory for a future Star Trek series. Might we see a frustrated Pike rebel, or try to otherwise change his fate?
Yes, we know that Pike will eventually end up back on the ‘forbidden planet’ of Talos IV, living his final years in a virtual, pain-free fantasy existence unencumbered by his current condition (“The Menagerie” Part 2), but the Pike of DSC’s 2nd season doesn’t yet have this knowledge. Pike’s eventual retirement on the quarantined planet, made possible by his devoted ex-science officer Spock, softens the blow of his cruel fate. At the very least, we know that Christopher Pike will eventually find some peace.
The Original Original Series.
“The Cage” represents Gene Roddenberry’s original intention for a Star Trek series. Many ideas and details in “The Cage” weren’t fully refined yet, and would be hammered out in TOS Star Trek. The ship looks ever-so-slightly different, with pointed nacelle caps, and a larger deflector dish. The interiors of the ship, while more or less recognizable, have a drastically more somber color palette (the bridge, in particular, is rendered in black, gray and silver hues). The ship’s weaponry consisted of hand lasers instead of the more familiar phasers. Lasers as main weaponry were more or less retconned out of Star Trek canon in 2001 with the ‘phase pistols’ introduced in Star Trek: Enterprise. Lasers may have been new and cool in 1964, but by the late 1970s and 1980s they were being used in games, pointers and children’s toys. Lasers for phasers/phase-pistols made for a wise retcon.
During Pike’s tenure on the Enterprise, we also see a much more emotional Spock who tended to shout (a trait Number One teases him on in the 2019 Short Trek, “Q&A”), and even smile at the sight of an alien plant on Talos IV. The earlier Spock hadn’t yet adopted the unemotional alien persona we saw established in the 2nd Star Trek pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” The late Nimoy had said in the 2001 DVD, “Mind Meld” (in a one-on-one interview with William Shatner) that he chose to play a more exuberant Spock in “The Cage” as a direct response to the more introspective Pike, played by Jeffrey Hunter. When the extroverted William Shatner became captain in the 2nd pilot, Nimoy chose to play Spock as more retracted and intellectual.
The character of Spock (Ethan Peck) is on a very different arc in DSC’s second season. Pike, foreshadowing Spock’s actions in “The Menagerie,” risks everything to locate and help his rogue science officer, rather than simply arrest or kill him (per his orders from Starfleet and Section 31). With a bearded Spock at the end of his emotional rope in DSC S2, he is eventually rescued by his half-sister Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green). Spock is also restored to sanity by returning to the forbidden planet of Talos IV (preceding the events of TOS’ “The Menagerie”). This second trip to Talos IV managed to stay completely off the record books (“If Memory Serves”).
On Talos IV, the Talosians help Spock return to his truer self, an act which left Spock indebted to the powerful telepaths. Spock would have to repay the debt by allowing the curious telepaths to probe his and Michael’s minds. In “The Menagerie Part 2,” Spock would finally return Christopher Pike to Talos IV. It’s hoped that perhaps Pike’s presence there might help to rehabilitate the atrophied Talosian society with good ol’ human ingenuity (see: author Margaret Wander Bonnano‘s amazing, if non-canonical book, “Burning Dreams” for details…well worth a read).
By the final scene of DSC’s 2nd season (“Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2”) we see Spock returning to the USS Enterprise bridge, sans beard, and much closer to the stoic, unemotional science officer we knew in the first season of TOS. While this scene was meant to close out DSC’s second season, it can also be seen as a jumping off point for a new Christopher Pike Star Trek series. If this series happens, then the Star Trek franchise has come full circle. After multiple spinoff series (TOS, The Animated Series, TNG, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, DSC and Picard), we are right back where it all started… on the bridge of the USS Enterprise, with Captain Pike, Number One and Mr. Spock. A possible Pike series could be the original original series that Roddenberry was denied when “The Cage” was first rejected by NBC.
Getting To Know You.
In addition to “The Cage”, “The Menagerie”, the Kelvinverse movies and DSC’s 2nd season, we also get more glimpses of life on Pike’s USS Enterprise in several of the “Short Treks”, also seen on CBS All Access. Short Treks are Star Trek vignettes, showing brief asides within the Star Trek universe. The Pike-centric Short Treks include “Q&A”, “The Trouble With Edward” and “Ask Not.” Of these three, “Q&A”, featuring Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and Spock (Ethan Peck), is my easy favorite, as they directly explore two of Star Trek’s time-honored characters.
The vignette chronicles Spock’s first day aboard the Enterprise as a junior science officer. The young half-Vulcan is, at this stage in his life, having some difficulty reconciling his pesky human heritage. To make matters worse, Spock is trapped in an immobilized turbolift with his new superior officer, Number One. Number One reluctantly mentors the annoying young half-Vulcan, cautioning him to not reveal his “freaky” side to the crew. After hours of enforced companionship, the two eventually lower their shields with each other, eventually duetting to “The Pirates of Penzance” (we see Spock laughing aloud!) before the lift is repaired. Once freed, the two of them vow to keep their silly little moment strictly confidential. The struggling young Spock is taught an unexpected lesson in emotional containment from his atypically cool human superior officer, “Never show you’re freaky.” A lesson young Spock apparently takes to heart in TOS, as he strives to become even more Vulcan than most Vulcans.
This is one of the potential benefits of a Pike series; getting to know characters such as Number One and Spock even better. Rebecca Romijn, in a long dark wig and bright red lipstick, is a close doppelgänger to Majel Barrett Roddenberry‘s version of the character (the late Barrett-Roddenberry would later go on to play Nurse Chapel in TOS). The enigmatic Number One, who is never even given a proper name, was something of an enigma in “The Cage” as well. Majel Barrett Roddenberry (then-credited as “M. Leigh Hudec”) played her rather straight; generally professional, but prone to occasional pouting (see her reaction when Pike tells her to remain aboard the ship in “The Cage”). Romijn takes the character and adds new dimensions, making the character a bit more fiery. Romijn’s Number One can put away a huge burger and fries with the best of ’em, and even give a Vulcan a lesson on emotional reserve. We also see the tiniest glimmers of the attraction she secretly harbors for her boss, Pike (DSC’s “Brother”), but both are far too cool and professional to ever let it get in the way. Romijn’s Number One is tough, smart and takes no s#!t from anyone, not even a nosy outranking admiral (“Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2”). Exploring this outwardly-stoic, inwardly passionate character over a TV series could be very rewarding, just as we got to know “Major Margaret Hoolihan” (Loretta Swit) in the long-running TV series, “MASH” (1972-1983). Margaret Hoolihan seems to be something of a template for this expanded version of Number One, whom I’d love to see even more of in a possible Pike series.
The character of Spock (Ethan Peck) offers a different challenge. At the beginning of TOS, Spock has a reputation of being logical, overly pragmatic and unemotional…hardly the bearded, emotionally wrecked soul we met in DSC’s 2nd season. By the end of DSC S2, we see Spock on the journey to becoming the more familiar Spock, as he takes to his bridge station with the familiar bowl haircut, stiff posture and stoic expression. Rather than mine the character for greater emotional range, as we might with Number One, Spock is on an ever-regressive path…becoming more distant and less outwardly demonstrative than the smiling, shouting young half-human we met in “The Cage.” To be honest, when I first saw Ethan Peck as Spock, I was skeptical (I was also still rooting for Zachary Quinto to get another chance at the role), but by the end of DSC S2, it was clear that the producers knew what they were doing. Peck’s Spock isn’t Leonard Nimoy’s self-assured, more settled Spock. This is a younger, less secure version. I think of myself in my 20s in regard to where I am in my 50s, and I realize that I’m a very different person now. I no longer ride motorcycles, I’m slightly more patient (but only slightly), I’m happily married, and I’ve even recently gone vegetarian. This younger Spock is at a different stage in life, and he still has a way to go before he becomes Nimoy’s more assured, comfortable Spock. That said, even the older Spock often gave us glimpses of his still-simmering inner conflict (“Naked Time,” “Amok Time,” “Journey To Babel”). Rather than turning up the emotional temperature in Peck’s performance, we would see his gradual cooling into the more stoic Mr. Spock of TOS. This also hasn’t been seen on Star Trek, as most alien characters often begin reveal more of their inner “humanity” over the course of a series, rather than scale it back. In whatever incarnation, Spock has been, and always shall be, my favorite Star Trek character.
I’d be utterly remiss if I failed to mention that Actor Anson Mount does nothing short of a phenomenal job with the role of Christopher Pike; his charismatic interpretation of the character became an immediate fan favorite. In addition to getting to better know Pike and the core group of characters we met on his USS Enterprise (Number One, Spock, possibly Boyce and Tyler) there are plenty of chances for new characters to be introduced.
In DSC S2, we met the Enterprise’s ill-fated, arrogant science officer Lt. Bryce (Ronnie Rowe) and a kick-ass, heroic tactical officer, Commander Nhan (Rachel Ancheril). A Barzan native, Nhan needs to breathe an air supplement in order to survive in Earth-like atmospheres. While neither of these characters would be available for a new Pike series (one’s dead, the other is presumed missing in the far future), they’re both interesting examples of the kind of diversity we might see in the Enterprise’s crew under Chris Pike’s command. Who (or what) else might be serving aboard Pike’s Enterprise of the late 2250s/early 2260s?
Pike’s Enterprise has less than half the crew complement of Kirk’s (203-430), but there could still be a lot of new, unseen crew members, not to mention guest roles and recurring characters. A Pike Star Trek series could offer the same broad diversity of most Star Trek series to date. Not just diversity within the human genome, but of non-human characters as well. An Andorian series regular, perhaps, as Commander Shran (Jeffrey Combs) was slated to become in ENT’s never-realized 5th season?
“I Will See My Dream Come Alive At Last…”
If there are any issues with a potential Pike series, it would be that the show could only last so long, since DSC’s second season ended in Star Trek’s fictional year of 2259, and James T. Kirk is due to take command of the USS Enterprise in 2265. However, that could still allow for a very healthy five to six-year run. Not too shabby...
Another issue that would have to be resolved would be the format; will the new show adopt the season-long arcs of current Star Trek, or while it be told in episodic format, like TOS, TNG, VGR, DS9 and ENT? While season long arcs are the norm for most television series these days (including DSC and Picard), there are some older fans (myself included) who miss the episodic storytelling of Star Treks past…especially on a reimagined USS Enterprise on another five year mission. That was the show that Gene Roddenberry originally envisioned when he first imagined Star Trek, and it’d be lovely to see the show return to that starting point, but with 21st century style visual effects, more diverse casting, and no more network-mandated censorship.
While the current coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe has put a halt on most film/TV productions, Star Trek will eventually swing back into production sooner or later. Here’s hoping that when it does, executives at CBS All Access will give serious consideration (and a green light) to a new Star Trek series centered on Christopher Pike’s USS Enterprise. A Pike series could be the final fulfillment of Roddenberry’s original vision for Star Trek, as well as the visions of many other Trek architects, including the late Dorothy Fontana, Gene L. Coon, Robert Justman, and so many more. Star Trek Pike could be a last chance to do the original original series…the one that didn’t get the green light back in 1965. Personally, I can’t think of a better time than right now for a fresh injection of Star Trek’s utopian optimism. “Engage!”
To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health during this difficult time. For the time being, please practice safe-distancing, wear masks in public, and avoid unnecessary outings as much as possible. Let’s all do our best to live long and prosper!