Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Making of the Star Trek Pilots, Part 2: “Where No Man Has Gone Before”

With Jeffrey Hunter departing, taking over the center seat of the Enterprise in the second pilot would be Canadian-born actor William Shatner, whose career had included highly acclaimed roles on stage (THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG, A SHOT IN THE DARK), screen (THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV) and television (TWILIGHT ZONE, THE OUTER LIMITS, FOR THE PEOPLE, and the pilot for the unsold series ALEXANDER, THE GREAT).

“I was offered the part in a rather peculiar fashion,” Shatner related to the English press in the 1970s. “They had made a pilot of STAR TREK with an actor who is now deceased, Jeffrey Hunter, and NBC did not like the pilot but they liked the idea. They said change the cast, change the story but give us another pilot for STAR TREK and we’ll pay a certain amount of money. So they showed me the first pilot and said, ‘Would you like to play the part and here are some of the storylines that we plan to go with; you can see the kind of production we have in mind. Would you care to play it?’ And I thought it was an interesting gamble for myself as an actor to take, because I’ve always been fascinated by science fiction. I liked the production; I liked the people involved with the production, and so I decided to do it. But it was under these peculiar circumstances of having a first pilot made that I did it.

“I then talked at great length with Gene Roddenberry about the objectives we hoped to achieve, and one of those objectives was serious drama as well as science fiction. His reputation and ability, which I knew first-hand, was such that I did not think he would do LOST IN SPACE. And I was too expensive an actor, with what special or particular abilities I have, to warrant being put in something that somebody else could walk through. So I felt confident that STAR TREK would keep those serious objectives for the most part, and it did.”

Bob Justman, who would go from assistant director on “The Cage” to Associate Producer on “Where No Man’s Gone Before,” explained, “Gene was very happy that he was able to get Bill Shatner, who was highly thought of in the industry. I had worked with Bill on OUTER LIMITS and he had a good reputation in the television and entertainment industries even at that time, well before the second pilot of STAR TREK. He was someone to be reckoned with and we certainly understood that he was a more accomplished actor than Jeff Hunter was, and he gave us more dimension. The network seemed to feel that Jeff Hunter was rather wooden. He was a nice person, everyone liked him, but he didn’t run the gamut of emotions that Bill Shatner could do. Shatner was classically trained. He had enormous technical abilities to do different things and he gave the captain a terrific personality. He embodied what Gene had in mind, which was the flawed hero. Or the hero who considers himself to be flawed. Captain Horatio Hornblower. That was who he was modeled on.”

Enthused Leonard Nimoy, “Bill Shatner’s broader acting style created a new chemistry between the captain and Spock, and now it was quite different from that of the first pilot.”

In the pages of I AM SPOCK, he elaborates, “Bill’s Captain Kirk was a swashbuckling Errol Flynn type of hero, he played the with a great deal of energy and élan, and wasn’t afraid to take chances. That élan has cost him at times; people have made fun of his exuberance because it made it easy to do a caricature of Kirk. His attack on a line of dialog, his unique way of pausing before blurting out the final word or phrase, were readily captured by imitators. But that energy was vital for the show, and made it possible for me to finally find a niche for my role. I don’t think the Spock character would have worked as well with Jeff Hunter, because Jeff’s Captain Pike was introverted and soft-spoken, so that there was no contrast between the two.”


And the relationship between the two characters and actors–despite whatever ego problems would arise later–positively sparked. David Gerrold, famed author, STAR TREK scholar and author of the episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” notes, “All of the movies and all of the episodes hold together because Shatner holds it together. Spock is only good when he has someone to play off of. The scenes where Spock doesn’t have Shatner to play off of are not interesting. If you look at Spock with his mom or dad, it’s very ponderous. But Spock working with Kirk has the magic and it plays very well, and people give all of the credit to Nimoy not to Shatner.”

While Shatner was hired, the three NBC-requested scripts for a second pilot were finished, including the Samuel A. Peeples’ effort “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” which chronicled the metamorphosis of Enterprise crewmember Gary Mitchell into a God-like being.

“My vague memory is that there had been several problems with ‘The Cage,’” reflected the late James Goldstone, who had been signed to direct STAR TREK’s second pilot. ” NBC was skeptical that a series could be manufactured, so to speak, on a weekly basis. One of the requisites put on the second pilot was to shoot it in, as I recall, eight days, which would then prove to them that a weekly series could be done in six or seven days. The other requisite, I would guess, it being television, is that NBC very much wanted something that could be ‘commercial’ against the police shows and all the other action things that were then on television.

“A combination of NBC, Gene, perhaps other executives at Desilu and I, read all three [scripts], discussed them in length, decided on what became ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before,’ and then embarked on a great deal of polishing and rewriting on a conceptual and physical level, so that we could make it in eight days. This one just seemed to have the potential to establish those characters on a human level. The only gimmick is the mutation forward, the silvering of Gary Mitchell’s eyes, and it works because it’s simple, as opposed to the growing of horns or something. Ours was a human science fiction concept, perhaps cerebral and certainly emotional.”

Samuel Peeples, who has written more segments of episodic television than anyone could ever keep track of, had actually had some connection with Gene Roddenberry and STAR TREK prior to “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

“Gene Roddenberry and I had known each other from writing HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL” Peeples recalls. “He was trying to start a science fiction series and he knew that I had one of the largest science fiction collections in the world. He was researching his show and asked if he could go through my magazines and get some ideas for the Enterprise. Gene went through all the covers, and that’s really how the Enterprise was born.”

In Peeples’ script, the starship Enterprise comes across a charred metallic “black box” (similar to what is used today on airplanes) from a long-lost space vessel. Captain James R. Kirk (the middle initial eventually changed to T. once the pilot led to series) has the device beamed aboard. In the meantime strong ties are established between the captain, Lieutenant Gary Mitchell, and first officer Mr. Spock. The Enterprise approaches an energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy and attempts to make its way through, resulting in the ship nearly being destroyed and metamorphosizing Mitchell’s natural ESP abilities. Those powers grow to the point where he becomes a god-like being, manipulating everything around him.


Spock listens to the black box and learns that the captain of that vessel was desperate to learn anything he could about ESP, and shortly thereafter ordered that his ship be set for self-destruction. Now Kirk is faced with one decision: kill Mitchell before the Enterprise is crushed by the man’s ever-increasing power.

“We were intrigued with the corruption of power theme manifesting over the ordinary individual,” says Peeples. “that was the basic premise, and we had to put in extrapolations of known scientific principles. At that time, the radiation belt had been discovered around the Earth, and my premise was that galaxies themselves might be separated by this type of barrier.

“Gene and I were trying to avoid the space cadet cliche,” he elaborates. “We were both very concerned about it being an adult show. One thing, as later episodes proved, was the problem which never should have existed: the bug eyed monsters. We both discouraged the idea, believing that we should keep things as realistic as possible. If a person was different physically, then explain the reason for that difference. In a particular atmosphere, he might have a larger lung. If it was a planet with an extraordinarily bright sun, he would have different eyes. We were actually trying to project reality against an unfamiliar background. In other words, we would deal with reality according to the environmental background we encountered.”

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” went into production soon thereafter. Joining Shatner, Nimoy and Gary Lockwood was Paul Fix as Dr. Mark Piper, George Takei as Physicist Sulu, James Doohan as Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, Lloyd Haynes as Communications Officer Alden and Andrea Dromm as Yeoman Smith, with Sally Kellerman “guest starring” as Dr. Elizabeth Dehner. As fans of the show recognize, the final STAR TREK cast was slowly taking shape.

NBC viewed the pilot in early 1966, and gave Roddenberry the green light for his series, much to the delight of everyone, as they were proud of what they had achieved.

“I was very happy with it,” enthused James Goldstone. “From a director’s point of view–or this director’s point of view–you have certain targets and certain problems which have to be overcome in any picture, whether it’s a $20 million feature or a television show. A director measures his success in two ways. Obviously, like everybody else, you measure it by whether or not it’s a critical and commercial success, but you also measure it in terms of overcoming obstacles. The obstacles were temporal, budgetary, but they were also conceptual. I was very proud of the work we were able to do. When I say we, I don’t mean it in a generous sense. I mean that it was a very collaborative effort, as are all pilots. We, being Gene, especially; Bobby Justman and the main actors who later became the main stars. Everything was planned in detail, and Bobby and I knew if we didn’t move from one set to another or one scene to another by a certain hour, we were in trouble.”

At a convention appearance, Roddenberry expressed, “The second pilot seemed to have great concepts: humans turning into gods. But they were nice safe gods, gods who go ‘Zap! You’re punished.’ Kind of like the guys you see on those Sunday morning shows…The biggest factor in selling the second pilot was that it ended up in a hell of a fist fight with the villain suffering a painful death. Then, once we got STAR TREK on the air, we began infiltrating a few of our ideas.”


Actor Gary Lockwood, who portrayed Gary Mitchell and who would later go on to portray astronaut Frank Poole in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, recalls working on STAR TREK’s second pilot.

“To tell you the truth,” he smiles, “I thought it was a little bizarre and I thought it was kind of embarrassing, and I hoped it worked out because everybody was excited about it. It was a very hard job to do. You couldn’t see the other actors. I’d rehearse and get everything all ready, but I couldn’t see the actors because of the contact lenses that changed my eyes. They didn’t blind me for the first few days, but after a few days the eyes swelled up and got sore. Then to have them on for just two or three minutes was agonizing. Scenes were rehearsed without them. The other thing about it, people always thought I was kind of egotistical so when I got to play that part, a lot of people laughed and said, ‘He’s finally found his niche.’ That’s been a joke among my friends.


“That character was tough to reach, because there’s no prototype character to look at. So you create a mental image and try to fill that slot. All I tried to do was downplay the mechanics and not be too dramatic. It’s the same thing I did in 2,001. Try to play the part very quietly and very realistically, and later on people don’t think you’re pushing. That’s the way to sustain it. There was a natural progression to the character. In order to do that, you have to think it out. Let me say one thing to you that I can say about American actors I don’t like and who don’t like me. You have to apply a certain amount of intelligence to your role first, and then you can apply the emotion after you’ve made an intellectual decision. Too many young kids I work with are all trying to figure out how to make the line comfortable. You work in Europe, they’re trying to bend to the line. Here they’re trying to bend the line to them. It’s a different approach. With Gary Mitchell, the idea was trying to go to the character and not make the character comfortable to me. I’m not Gary Mitchell.”

In the early 1980s when the second STAR TREK feature, THE WRATH OF KHAN, was in development and word had leaked out that an enemy from Kirk’s past was reaching out to him in vengeance, many believed that that person was going to be a resurrected Gary Mitchell. More recently, visual effects supervisor Darren Doctorman, who works on the independent web series STAR TREK: PHASE II, mused that he thought that the fifth film in the series, THE FINAL FRONTIER, would have been far more interesting had the Enterprise’s quest to meet God resulted in Kirk confronting Gary Mitchell.

Although neither came to pass, the character DID return, albeit in print form. Author Michael Jan Friedman chronicled Mitchell’s life in a pair of novels published in 1998 under the umbrella title MY BROTHER’S KEEPER. Volume one was called REPUBLIC, followed by CONSTITUTION. The character was also resurrected in the one-shot 1996 comic book STAR TREX, which serves as a crossover between the original series and (believe it or not) Marvel Comics’ X-Men. The special was written by Scott Lobdell (an integral writer of the X-Men comics) and drawn by Marc Silvestri.

As the Star Trek Comics Checklist describes: “Investigating a spatial rift near Delta Vega, the planet where Dr. Elizabeth Dehner and Lt. Cmdr. Gary Mitchell mutated and died, the Enterprise encounters a ship in distress. Before exploding, seven life forms are detected and another ship comes through the rift. A being named Gladiator leaves the second ship and claims Delta Vega in the name of the Shi’ar Empire, punching Scotty’s shields for emphasis. Meanwhile, the seven life forms have teleported to a cargo hold in the Enterprise – Cyclops, Phoenix, The Beast, Wolverine, Storm, Gambit and Bishop. With the crew of the Enterprise, the X-Men must face Deathbird and Proteus, who has bonded with the essence of the long dead Gary Mitchell and a potentially inexhaustible supply of psionic energy.

In an interview with ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, Lobdell offered, “It’s a perfectly natural crossover. At heart, they’re both stories about a handful of people facing the unknown. They both hit the same nerve in American consciousness. Isn’t that what we’re in the business of doing – going where no one has gone before?”
Admitted Silvestri, “It was a challenge, putting realistic [human] characters next to one that are idealized forms. But it was fun just getting these characters into the same panel.” — Retrospective by Edward Gross