|You know it makes sense|
It's Star Trek, Jim, but not as we know it.
As fans know, Star Trek had a pilot episode that NBC didn't like—but, unusually, they paid for a second pilot, which became the basis of the Star Trek we know. (It became the episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before" TOS). The first pilot was "The Cage". Quite a bit of it was later incorporated into the TOS two-parter "The Menagerie", which retrospectively established that TOS was set a few years after the Star Trek of Captain Pike.
I sometimes wonder what Star Trek would have been like if it had been based on the first pilot. It's impossible to know for sure, of course, but we can make some guesses.
The basic set-up was the same. The starship Enterprise goes about the galaxy having interesting encounters. There are a few minor differences in the technology, but these don't affect anything important. The most important items, such as the transporter, are already there. The tone of the programme is much the same. (For a contrast, have a look at the clips of the original pilot of The Big Bang Theory. The differences produce a different feel to the whole thing, and it would probably have been quite a different show.)
The biggest difference between "The Cage" and Star Trek as we know it is in the characters. Star Trek as we know it had the following major characters in the first season:
- Captain Kirk
- Mr Spock, first officer (and science officer)
- Dr McCoy
- There are also some other important characters, including Scotty the engineer, Sulu, Uhura, Yeoman Rand, and Nurse Chapel.
The first pilot, however, had:
- Captain Pike (Jeffrey Hunter)
- Number One, the (female) first officer (Majel Barrett)
- Dr Boyce (John Hoyt)
- Mr Spock, science officer (Leonard Nimoy)
There are also some minor characters who might have been developed further in later episodes.
Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy, was the only character to survive into the second pilot. Majel Barrett, who played Number One, became Nurse Chapel, a less interesting character.
At first glance this may not look so different, but the nature and balance of the characters was different. Captain Pike was a brooding figure, who is thinking at the start of quitting the service because he's tired of the responsibility. Number One was unemotional and logical—or at least she seemed so, though we learn that underneath she does have feelings. Dr Boyce is Captain Pike's confidant and friend. Spock is an alien, but does not have the unemotional nature we later associate with Vulcans. (He smiles, and exclaims loudly, for example.) Instead of Yeoman Rand there is Yeoman Colt (Laurel Goodwin), also an attractive young woman; these two roles are similar but Yeoman Colt seems possibly to be a more central character. We don't get very much insight into the relationship between Pike and Number One, because they are separated for most of the episode.
The idea of the unemotional Vulcans had not yet been developed. Leonard Nimoy has said that Spock had to be played as more outgoing because of the nature of Captain Pike (and, one might add, Number One). Number One and Spock have similarities in terms of the unemotional foil to the more emotional captain.
In some ways the most interesting character is Dr Boyce. His character has presence. He fulfils McCoy's role of the captain's friend, and is very human, but he has a more balanced outlook than McCoy's emotional nature. (In Star Trek as we know it, McCoy and Spock balance each other around Kirk.) In addition, Dr Boyce has an analytical streak. He seems to have the clearest insight into the implications of the aliens' ability to create mental illusions, commenting on the illusion of the survivors' camp: "They had us seeing just what we wanted to see, human beings who'd survived with dignity and bravery, everything entirely logical, right down to the building of the camp, the tattered clothing, everything. Now let's be sure we understand the danger of this."
Later, the crew attempt to blast their way in with a huge energy cannon channelling the ship's power, but get nowhere. Number One is puzzled.
"Number One: The top of that knoll should have been sheared off the first second.
Boyce: Maybe it was. It's what I tried to explain in the briefing room. Their power of illusion is so great, we can't be sure of anything we do, anything we see."
Number One would probably have evolved into an interesting character, but her scope was limited in the one episode. Her most memorable scene is the moment when Pike offers a deal to the aliens: he will stay with Vina if they release Number One and Yeoman Colt. Number One however sets her weapon to overload, saying that "It's wrong to create a whole race of humans to live as slaves." Pike had raised this point with Vina earlier, actually. He seems to approve; perhaps he had just not thought of this solution. There is also a good scene in the conference room when, after discussion, everyone turns to look at her, waiting for orders.
"The Cage" was rejected for being too intellectual, though apparently the sexuality on display was also a problem. There is no fist-fight sequence of the sort that Kirk indulges in.
OK, given all this, what can we say about the Star Trek That Never Was? Like the actual series, it would have had a central core of three characters (Pike, No. 1, Boyce) or perhaps four with Spock. As with actual-TOS, there would have been a dynamic balance of the characters that would help drive the stories. But it would have been a very different balance. The characters cannot be seen as simply substitutes or earlier versions.
All three of the central characters are restrained in different ways. Perhaps this would have pushed Spock further in the direction of the lively one? Spock would probably have been a significant character, as he was supposed to provide an alien presence. But as we have seen, it is unlikely it would have been the sort of otherness the actual Spock developed. The First-Pilot-Vulcans would have developed some distinctive culture or mentality of their own, which we cannot now know.
The other characters, and other things, might have changed a bit as the series went on. Star Trek TNG provides an example of how initial faults and limitations can be escaped. If all we had of TNG was "Encounter at Farpoint", we might well think the series was doomed from the start. Captain Picard (in that episode) is pompous and unconvincing compared to Kirk. Riker seems superfluous. And—well, never mind, I presume you've seen the episode. Great joy, and gratitude.
The revised version included, as well as different central characters, a wider range of others. It was incidentally more diverse, with Mr Sulu and Lt. Uhura (and later Chekhov). The character Uhura is not African-American but comes from a "United States of Africa"—possibly East African in view of her Swahili. Of course, the Pike-version Star Trek might have added such characters.
So—in terms of stories, Star Trek would have been much the same. If it had stayed close to the pilot it might have had a more intellectual feel (no fist-fights?) though this would probably have changed to meet the tastes of the studio. The big difference would have been in the central characters, who would have had a different balance. It's hard to say whether it would have worked as well: it would not have had the obvious balance of Kirk-Spock-McCoy, with emotion and rationality symbolically pulling Kirk in both directions, but it might have had a logic of its own. I suspect that Pike would have seemed less dominant that Kirk, with an ensemble effect like TNG on a smaller scale. I also suspect that the biggest fan clubs would have been for No. 1 and Boyce.
Star Trek would have had the same sort of stories—after all, it was created for them. Some of the actual stories require Mr Spock as we know him, such as "Amok Time": that episode could not exist, though perhaps instead there would be an episode about the peculiarities of the First-Pilot-Vulcans. At the other extreme, some Star Trek stories do not particularly depend on the specific characters, for example "The Conscience of the King" or "A Taste of Armageddon". "Mirror, Mirror" would be a bit different as regards Spock, but a more interesting point is that it would require more characters than "The Cage".
But what about stories which are not really about Spock, but which are written in a way which makes particular use of his character? How about "The Arena", for example? (The episode with the Gorn, possibly the best alien in all of Star Trek.) The Enterprise discovers that an Earth colony has been destroyed, and Kirk believes that this is the prelude to invasion. He is determined to hunt down the aliens before they can get home and report. Spock privately expresses doubts, however, and is eventually vindicated, as we learn later that they regarded the colony as an aggressive intrusion on their space. One can easily see Pike taking the same line as Kirk. Who would replace Spock? I would suggest, not Number One, but Boyce.
And what of "City on the Edge of Forever"? The Captain needs to be accompanied by a close companion, but perhaps Boyce would not have been suitable. In the actual episode, Spock is close to the Captain, but his logical attitude contrasts with Kirk's emotional involvement. Boyce, who can do both logical and emotional, would unbalance things. So perhaps Spock would have this role after all. (Number One is possible but raises practical complications. Her position with Pike in 1930s America would be difficult unless they pretend to be married, which would seem to prevent the romantic plot.)
"Spock's Brain" would still have been possible, so that's a relief.
For another discussion of how TOS might have turned out if it had followed the first pilot, see "Star Trek: The Franchise's Big Turning Points", a page in the very interesting Den of Geek site.
Just remember—according to the Many Worlds Theory (see "Parallels" TNG) there is a reality in which Star Trek was made from the first pilot. It's unfortunate Worf didn't bring back a set of DVDs.
Note: see the terrific video "My Number (One)" on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7ivoy3UptM last time I checked), using a Sara and Tegan song.
Addendum, June 2022
There is now a new series, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (SNW), following the Enterprise in the era of Captain Pike. Pike, Number One, and Spock are present, but some of the other characters are different. (The doctor is Dr M'Benga, who appeared in TOS.) More importantly, Strange New Worlds fits into the Star Trek universe that evolved from TOS. For example, Spock is an unemotional logical Vulcan, not the Spock of "The Cage". A hypothetical TOS based on "The Cage" would have been different from SNW. However, Captain Pike in SNW does draw strongly on the Pike of "The Cage".