ReelReviews #115: Looking back at the Star Trek pilot episodes


SEPTEMBER 25, 2017: 50+ Years of Star Trek pilots


One good Star Trek review deserves another!  The other day, while reviewing my initial thoughts on Discovery, someone noted that they disagreed about my assessment about DS9’s pilot episode, “Emissary” (I noted that it used to be my least favorite pilot episode until Discovery came along)

This reaction gave me a good idea for a follow-up review.

While it’s too soon to judge what direction Discovery will go, and whether its first season will ultimately be successful, and whether it will ever embrace or even show the content I think it should, we can look back at 50 years of Star Trek pilots (That’s eight – yes, eight different pilots, since the original series had two, and people overlook the animated series) and see how Discovery stacks up against them.

As I noted, I don’t hate Discovery, but what I saw on screen is my least favorite Star Trek pilot at this point. So without further ado, here’s my take on the rest of ‘em.

1) “Caretaker” (VOY) — This one had it all. Very ambitious in scope, did most of the stuff Discovery now claims to be pioneering for Star Trek (e.g. start out with two different crews and killed off major crew members without warning, etc.) Compelling sci-fi adventure drew on all the previous Star Trek shows up until that time, and incorporated elements of them into its story. The stakes were high, Janeway was forced to make a heartbreaking decision, and it neatly ended the episode with the show’s premise in place and leaving the audience excited for where they would go from there.

2) “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (TOS 2nd pilot) – Had a surprisingly compelling sci-fi story for being a “less cerebral” pilot than The Cage. Good character information. Most importantly, WNMHGB introduced us to Kirk & Spock, established their differences early on, and forced Kirk to make a very difficult decision right off the bat. Only suffers because 1960s TV isn’t really a “pilot” per say and ended up getting aired randomly out of order.

3) “The Cage” (TOS 1st pilot) – The one that started it all, so brownie points for that. Talosians were an excellent foil for the crew in this episode and it introduces a classic Star Trek morality conflict. Plus, much of this episode was used to give us the excellent “The Menagerie, Parts I & II”. Still, it just makes me wonder how things would have gone if they had continued with this crew.

4) “Beyond the Farthest Star” (TAS) Not much as far as pilots go, but worked well in establishing the template for the Animated Series is a short running time only 22 minutes. It was very good they didn’t go with some silly idiotic plot aimed at 5 year olds but gave us a legitimate sci-fi threat that could have made a good live action episode. Plus the ending genuinely moved me.

5) “Broken Bow” (ENT) This is where the pilots start to show flaws. Overall its pretty solid but I felt they made a mistake introducing the Klingons from Day One of this series and making a much more lighthearted “first contact” story with them. Other than that, it has a very good backstory for Archer and establishing the history of warp drive to “fill in the blanks” between Cochrane’s landmark event to the establishment of Starfleet. The Suliban were cool villains – and actually better than the later Xindi. I hated the “Temporal Cold War” stuff later on, but it’s tolerable here.

6) “Encounter at Farpoint” (TNG) – This one is a guilty pleasure for me. TNG in its embryonic form and the show was still trying to find its identity at this point, and it shows. A lot of it is unintentionally campy and the dialogue is a little too “on the nose”. Still, it introduced Q and the Q stuff is good, and ensured we would end up with one of the most iconic characters in Star Trek history, and it did a good job showing how different things would be a century after Kirk (Klingon on the bridge and so forth)

7) “Emissary” (DS9) – Meh. Never liked DS9, and I do not like the pilot, though the episode itself is tolerable. Best thing about this one is it showed us the famous Battle of Wolf 359 from an entirely different perspective, and something we’d never see on DS9 again. Stuff they introduced about the Prophets did nothing for me. This just didn’t feel Star Trekish enough, even with all the TNG references constantly thrown in.

8) “The Vulcan Hello” (STD) — Amazing visuals & art direction, and I thought Sonequa Martin-Green did a great job bringing Michael Burnham to life as a three dimensional character. The rest didn’t work for me, and left me cold. Extremely bleak and felt nothing like “10 years before Kirk”, and the re-imagined Klingons were awful. 40 minutes of grimdark war stuff that didn’t “get” the Star Trek spirit at all. It felt more like Star Wars (minus the fun), not to mention they apparently now communicate via holographic messages like Star Wars. What the hell? Failed to do its job of selling me on the show and getting me to sign up for All Access to see what happens next.