Friday, 10 May 2013

TOS - P1 - The Cage

Star Trek - The Cage
These fashionable goggles are perfect for skiing, swimming,
working in the labs, or in away mission in alien planet.

They're available in all Star Trek
conventions. Grab one while stock lasts.

Star Trek Goggles, the only ones you need.
In this Star Trek pilot episode, it's Captain Pike, not Kirk, who's at the helm of the Enterprise. Spock is there, but not as 1st officer. Number One was played by Majel Barrett (in the left photo. Gene Roddenberry's 1st wife). Sulu was nowhere to be seen. Neither was McCoy. The ship's doctor was played by John Hoyt (in the left photo of what looks like a goggle ads poster).

There's a lot of hardcopy (i.e. paper) being used on the Enterprise. Hardly futuristic or green. And the communicator is large (albeit quite a nice piece of craftsmanship). And no stardate.

What's forever lodged/locked into the Star Trek - and my - memory bank is the image of green seductive belly-dancer (played by Susan Oliver), and the large bulbous crania of the Talosians. Well, the original production of this episode is in black and white. It was just as easy to make body green, or and leaves blue as having natural skin colour or green leaves in colouring the B&W film.

The Talosian must have given the American public in the 1960s a more 'credible' source what aliens should look like: humanoid with bulbous heads. They look uncanny like the aliens described by real life alien abductee cases. "Take me to your leader, the one called Gene Roddenberry". For all we know, an alien might looking like the merging of an elephant, a mosquito, and Paris Hilton during a transporter malfunction. To be on the safe side, it was already hard to swallow the idea of a humanoid alien abduction. Who's capable of sketching a composite identity picture of a mosquitos, an elephant, and Paris Hilton?

Spock's makeup is somewhat different too. His hair resembled the Beatles less. The introductory sequence that contains the Enterprise's mission statement with the split infinitive " boldly go where no man has gone before" hadn't arrived for another 2 episodes.

H.G. Wells is one of the 3 writers that are considered the Father of Science Fiction (the other 2 are Jules Verne, and Hugo Gernsback). Of the 3, I like the works of H.G. Wells the most. I imagine Gene Roddenberry shared that view too. At least for this episode.

He wrote the script for this episode, which borrowed ideas from The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, in my humble opinion.

Ever since The War of the Worlds was published in 1898, the idea of the existence of alien races whose intelligence that are light years more advanced than ours took root. In Wells' novel, the superior race lives in our neighbouring planet Mars. They constantly study us, and probe us - much like scientists study lab rats - for the purpose of invasion, conquest, followed by enslavement.

This is in fact how the title of the episode came to be. The human are captured and placed in enclosure with glass screens so that the Talosian could observe and study them. This is essentially an animal cage.

The Talosian, much like the Morlocks in the H.G. Wells' Time Machine, live underground because of the war that renders the planet surface not habitable for life, in both cases. They have diabolical plans for their captured human who live above ground (like the Eloi). The Morlocks are far more intelligent than the Eloi, just as the Talosians are far more cerebral than the Human. And the Morlocks are the overlord of the planet due to their intellects.

While Gene Roddenberry may have inspired by H.G. Wells, The Matrix (1999) has much in common with the story of "the Cage". Both stories are about the enslavement of the human race by a far more intelligent, but callous being with the help of illusion to blind them of the true reality. Give people an allusion of happiness, and they would oblivious to the reality of their enslavement.

The human are captured by the Talosian for breeding. The word Matrix could be understood as the illusion or virtual reality created by the robots. The word 'matrix' is much older than that. It has its roots in Latin, which means a cattle that's bred for the purpose of extracting certain produce. For example, sheep could be bred for wool, cow for milk, and human for bioenergy. In other word, in The Matrix, human are being milked or fleeced for bio-energy by "cyborgs".

Is this an allusion to the Maoist China (and DPRK of today)? Keep the citizen in their own countries (the Cage) so they don't know the reality outside their borders, brainwashing them - to give them the illusion - continually that they're the luckiest people in the world (the illusion or the matrix), and they won't revolt.

For the non sci-fi viewers, The Matrix movie is refreshingly original. For the Trekkies, "The Cage" is  lights years ahead of the Matrix. Well, at least 3 decades ahead.

Let indulge me with a little digression.

I believe H.G. Wells got the idea for The War of the Worlds not from another fiction, but from history (The War of the Worlds is totally an original work of a genius). Specifically the history of Spanish conquest and enslavement of the Inca people afterwards. The Spaniards weren't just technologically far superior than the Incas with their possession of guns, horses, ships and steel blades, while Incas fought with spears and slings. Even worse, the Inca population was dealt with a devastating blow by the germs carried by the Spaniards. Germs that the Inca people had no immunity to because they had lived in isolation from the rest of the world.

I guess H.G. Wells looked at this history and appalled by the injustice. So I imagine he decided to rewrite history with artistic license the way he could. And so he embarked on to write a more ideal version of history in fiction where the invaders gets what they deserved by the destruction of germs. In The War of the Worlds, it was the humans (who play the Incas) who give the Martians (who play the Spanish Conquistadors) the deadly germs, instead.

In real life, you don't always get poetic justice.

My speculation of Wells' inspiration for The War of the Worlds isn't just based on the mere coincidences or parallels between the Spanish Empire and Incas on the one hand, and Martians and Human on the other. HG Wells was well known for his anti-colonial, and anti-imperial stance. European world's imperialism, colonialism started from the Spanish Conquistadors in the 15th century, and ended in WW2 in 20th century.

Wells argued that one solution of preventing any one nation or empire having too much power over another would be for the world to form a world/galactic empire. Ok, that sounds like a contradiction. Perhaps, Wells couldn't escape the language of his day. Perhaps what he meant was a world body that something similar to United Nation of today.

This shows a further influence of HG Wells on Roddenberry. Roddenberry's vision of the future of such organ would be The United Federation of Planets. Growing up in the States, The Federation is a more appropriate language than those used by HG Wells.

The stories of The War of the Worlds is the story of the First Contact. It's a favourite subject for the Star Trek writers. After all, the mission of the Enterprise is to make contacts. But sometimes, ok quite often, such contacts often result in violent confrontations because of the clash of civilisations with different value systems, beliefs, and so forth, which inevitably leads to conflicts . This was seen in the many First Contacts between human civilisations, and we witnessed how bloody they were.

Like I said, H.G. Wells must have been Roddenberry's (and mine) fave sci-fi writer.

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