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TV REVIEW : ‘Star Trek’ Pilot Airs on KCOP

Tonight’s first-ever airing of “The Cage,” the original pilot of “Star Trek,” shows clearly that although creator/producer Gene Roddenberry initially had promised NBC executives a “ ‘Wagon Train’ to the stars,” he gave them from the very outset a show that was and continues to be a clear-sighted mirror of human honor and foibles, no matter what the generation or century.

“The Cage” (8 p.m. on KCOP Channel 13) has gone through a couple of permutations since 1964. Some of it was recycled into a “Star Trek” episode called “The Menagerie,” and the pilot itself has been released on videocassette. But when the latter version was being readied, the only existing copies of some scenes were in black and white, so the cassette mixes those with color scenes. An all-color version was recently found in the Paramount vaults; this is what we’re seeing tonight.

Introduced by actor Patrick Stewart, who plays the Enterprise captain in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the telecast is also interspersed with interviews with members of his crew and stars of the original series.

Though clearly in the “Star Trek” mold that we Trekkers know and love, “The Cage” sports only two cast members of the show that made it to the air in September, 1966: Leonard Nimoy, playing an uncharacteristically excitable Mr. Spock, and Majel Barrett, who plays First Officer “Number One” here but was subsequently recast as nurse Christine Chapel. The captain is the late Jeffrey Hunter.

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Despite a budget of $600,000, NBC executives were not impressed with “The Cage” and asked for a second pilot. This effort, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” starred William Shatner as the peripatetic Captain Kirk, and the show took flight.

“The Cage” joins the Enterprise crew as it follows up on an old radio distress signal from a crash 18 years earlier on an unexplored planet, Talos IV. They find a young survivor, played by Susan Oliver, whom the devious Talosians have in mind to pair with the captain in an effort to revive their long-dead civilization.

Though this is a maiden voyage, with some awkwardly handled special effects and a gee-whiz feeling to the gadgetry, there’s already a great deal of depth and intensity to the plot and the acting, proving this to be a worthy beginning to the legend that is “Star Trek.”


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