Longtime Star Trek fans undoubtedly know this bit of trivia, but William Shatner’s famed Enterprise captain, James T. Kirk, wasn’t actually the first Star Trek captain.
It’s a useful detail to keep in mind in light of the latest bit of news from the Star Trek franchise. On Friday, CBS announced the new All Access series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It brings us to a pre-Kirk era of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s life, with co-creator and executive producer Akiva Goldsman describing it as “optimistic” and “more episodic” – an intentional nod to the original Star Trek TV series.
The show’s central characters will include the characters of Spock, Number One, and Captain Christopher Pike as they were introduced in Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access. That means the actors behind them – Ethan Peck, Rebecca Romijn, and Anson Mount, respectively – will be reprising their Discovery roles on the new show.
The Pike character’s roots extend all the way back to the mid-1960s and the original Star Trek pilot, which never aired in its original form back then. “The Cage,” as the episode was called, introduced the U.S.S. Enterprise and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. But in place of Shatner’s Kirk, the episode starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike.
The story follows Pike and Spock as they venture to the surface of an alien world to investigate a distress beacon. Only it turns out to be a trap laid by the bulbous-headed Talosians, who capture Pike with the intent of using him to father a race of humans that could repopulate their world. Needless to say, the plan doesn’t pan out for the Talosians and the Enterprise departs safely.
NBC rejected the original pilot, citing concerns with the pace and the belief that the story would fly over most viewers’ heads. But the network remained interested in creator Gene Roddenberry’s idea, and so a second pilot was ordered. That one featured Shatner as Kirk and it eventually aired as the third episode in Star Trek‘s first season.
Some material from that earlier pilot did make it into the first season when pieces of it were cut into a two-part episode called “The Menagerie.” But the full version of “The Cage” wasn’t widely available publicly until the release of a VHS version – to any youngs out there, VHS is like a boxier Blu-ray – in 1986. The episode then aired on TV two years later, in 1988.
So while Hunter’s Captain Pike might not have hit the airwaves until the middle of Season 1, he was the original Enterprise captain in the truest sense.
Pike has popped up a couple of times in the years since Star Trek first aired, most notably in the rebooted J.J. Abrams-verse. There, actor Bruce Greenwood’s take on the character had him encouraging a young James Kirk (Chris Pine) to join Starfleet in 2009’s Star Trek. Greenwood returned for 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness.
The Pike that will feature into Strange New Worlds, played by Anson Mount, was introduced in Discovery. I’m not going to get into spoilers for that show as it’s filled with surprises, but suffice to say there’s a clear path from Discovery to what we’re promised will be the continuing adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the upcoming spinoff series.
(A quick follow-up note: Yes, Scott Bakula’s Captain Jonathan Archer from Star Trek: Enterprise exists at an earlier point in the timeline. But Pike was the first captain committed to film, even if his contributions weren’t clear until after the original series had premiered.)