Star Trek’s First Captain – The Captain Pike Breakdown
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is getting ready for season 3, but its captain has been around since the beginning. Who is Christopher Pike?
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is billed as the longest pilot-to-series pickup in television history. Technically speaking, the original pilot was shown to Desilu Productions in 1964 and featured Christopher Pike as the captain. Executives at Desilu felt that creator Gene Roddenberry put together a series that was far too cerebral. They also thought it was too sexy!
The episode, eventually dubbed “The Cage,” saw release in three main forms. The first time it appears is in the Star Trek episodes “The Menagerie” parts one and two where its footage is repurposed. Decades later in the 1980s, “The Cage” was actually shown in its completion through home video. And thanks to Star Trek: Discovery‘s second season, “The Cage” found new life again.
In all three instances, Captain Pike features heavily. So let’s use “The Cage” as our starting place both in the universe and to discuss the behind-the-scenes evolution of the character as well.
Captain Pike & the Cage
Captain Christopher Pike begins “The Cage” as a haunted man unsure of his future. Pike is still reeling after losing multiple crew members during an away mission at Rigel VII. When a mysterious signal comes from the Talos star group, Pike is resistant to the idea of even investigating. In fact, Pike wants to resign his commission as captain and go back to riding horses on Earth.
However, the universe has different plans, and on Talos IV, Pike’s away team discovers a lost survey ship called the SS Columbia. Pike finds himself especially connected to a young woman named Vina. But all is not as it seems and soon Pike is captured by the telepathic natives of Talos IV as the rest of his team discovers that all the crash survivors but Vina are illusions.
The Talosians want Pike to act as the Adam to Vina’s Eve. The aliens are dying and wish to repopulate their world with a new civilization based on Pike and Vina. In order to make Pike accept this and fall in love with Vina, the Talosians subject him to a number of hallucinations. Pike fights again on Rigel VII, but this time Vina is there and he succeeds in protecting her. Vina also appears in fantasies where she is a dancing Orian and one where she is back on Earth with Pike and his horses.
Pike fights the psychological onslaught but does care for Vina. And since Vina cannot leave Talos without becoming disfigured since her appearance is also a Talosian illusion. As a result, Pike allows an illusional version of himself to remain on Talos IV so Vina is not alone.
What “The Cage” Tells Us About Pike
In the Star Trek pilot, Captain Christopher Pike is a sensitive man. Arguably unlike Kirk who accepts death and moves on (unless Spock dies), Pike is unnerved by the loss of life on his ship. We only see Rigel VII through a hallucination, but the impact of Pike’s time there is felt throughout the pilot. There are only seven injuries and three deaths during the mission to Rigel VII, but that’s enough to make Pike question whether or not he wants to remain captain.
However, Pike does want to be captain of the Enterprise. The grand irony of Pike being replaced with Kirk after the pilot is that the entire purpose of “The Cage” is for Pike is to show he does love being captain despite the struggles that come with the job. Thankfully, Strange New Worlds keeps this element of Pike. They also retain his love of horses!
There is one other aspect of Pike which we’re equally glad is no longer part of the canon. In “The Cage”, Pike repeatedly complains about women being on the bridge. The only woman who is allowed on the bridge is Number One, Pike’s first officer. And Number One is only allowed on the bridge because she’s not like the other girls. This character note feels backward even for 1964 and makes even less sense in the 2020s.
The Metatext of Pike in “The Cage”
Including “The Menagerie”, Pike is played by three different actors. Sean Kenney plays the older, disfigured version of Pike in “The Menagerie”. And during “The Cage”, Robert Herron served as Pike for the stunt scenes. However, the man most associated with the role at this point is Jeffrey Hunter. Ironically, Hunter was not the first approached to play Pike. Lloyd Bridges turned it down because of bad luck in the past with science fiction. Robert Loggia, Leslie Nielson, Robert Stack, and George Segal also appear on the list of Pike possibilities.
There is one other name you might recognize for potential Enterprise captains—William Shatner. Yes, the once and future Captain Kirk circles the captain’s chair for a little while before finally sitting down. As a matter of fact, Jeffrey Hunter is partially responsible for Pike’s end and Kirk’s beginning.
“The Cage” did not find approval with Desilu. There were a number of changes they should undergo, the captain included. Roddenberry invited Shatner and Hunter both to a screening of the episode. At that time, Hunter’s wife told the leading man that science fiction wasn’t worth it. Hunter left the role and Kirk became the next captain of the Enterprise.
Anson Mount & the Return of Christopher Pike
For a very long time, Christopher Pike’s story was over. And then Star Trek: Discovery came along and changed everything. At the close of the show’s first season, Discovery comes nose-to-nose with none other than the USS Enterprise NCC-1701. It’s captain? Christopher Pike as played by Anson Mount. And we learn a lot more about Pike in this season than we do during “The Cage” and “Menagerie”.
Pike’s version of the Enterprise is down for the count, so he takes over as captain of Discovery. Right away, we see that Pike is a gentle, caring captain with little in the way of ego. We learn quickly that he cares deeply both for his version of Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and Spock (Ethan Peck). Spock is missing and Pike spends a lot of emotional energy trying to track Spock down. Big dad energy here.
Spock attempts to repair his own temporally fractured mind by returning to Talos IV. During this time, Pike interacts with Vina which reaffirms that the events of “The Cage” remain canonical to Star Trek. Not only that, Pike still has deep feelings for Vina. However, the biggest evolution of Christopher Pike comes during his trip to the Klingon moon of Boreth.
Boreth is home to two things: a Klingon monastery and time crystals. The time crystals have the ability to show people the future. Pike sees his future and it remains as bleak as we first saw it in “The Menagerie”. And while he manages to keep his awareness of his own essential demise tamped down, he is struggling.
Christopher Pike & Strange New Worlds
Captain Pike, nearly sixty years from his first appearance, finally has his own show. Thus far, Pike – woman-hating aside – is essentially the same man we meet in “The Cage”. In fact, exactly as he threatened in the original Star Trek pilot, Pike actually does hide out with his horses for a while after the events of Star Trek: Discovery season 2. However, returns to service with a little help from Admiral Robert April. Fun fact, Robert April is the first captain of the Enterprise NCC-1701 and Pike was his first officer.
Thus far, Strange New Worlds Pike is a man overcoming his fixed future. He is the man who knows the names of every life he will save in exchange for his own. But Pike is also the kind of captain who cooks for his crew and who will risk his life and his commission to do what’s right. In other words, he is the captain of the Enterprise. Who knows where he might go next?
Those Other Pikes
It’s worth mentioning that there are two other Christopher Pikes out there in alternate continuities. In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Mirror, Mirror” we find out that there is an evil Christopher Pike who is captain of the ISS Enterprise in an alternate dimension. Check that: there was an evil Christopher Pike—an even more evil version of James Kirk kills him in order to become captain.
The Bad Robot produced Star Trek films starring Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock also featuring Christopher Pike. In this version (dubbed the “Kelvin” universe), Greenwood’s Pike starts as the captain of the Enterprise and a bit of a father figure to Kirk. Unfortunately, he is eventually harmed badly enough that Kirk needs to take control of the ship. worse, Greenwood’s Pike dies at the hands of Benedict Cumberbatch’s very British (and white, good grief) version of Khan Noonien Singh.
The Kelvin Christopher Pike meets a grizzly end and his story (so far as we know) is over. However, Anson Mount’s Chris Pike is just getting started.
Who knows what we’ll find out about him next?