Discovery Broke Star Trek Tradition For Its Best TOS Reference Yet

Captain Pike in Star Trek Discovery and The Original Series

Star Trek: Discovery charted new frontiers of fan service when it used footage from Star Trek: The Original Series' unaired pilot "The Cage" for season 2, episode 8's recap sequence - in a move that was both practical and inspired.

Star Trek: The Original Series two-parter “The Menagerie” introduced audiences to Captain Pike, Number One, Vina and the Talosians via flashback, more or less. Roughly a decade after the events of Discovery and Spock’s initial assignment on the Enterprise, Pike is injured saving crewmen from a deadly radiation leak. He’s left disfigured and almost completely disabled, and Spock commits mutiny in an effort to get him to Talos IV so the Talosians can repair him the same way they did Vina. Spock undergoes a court-martial for the attempt, and he explains his behavior to Kirk and a Starfleet Commodore via what’s essentially security camera footage of what happened when Pike and the Enterprise first visited the planet. That footage was actually recycled footage from “The Cage,” Star Trek’s first pilot that NBC rejected, but was later absorbed into wider Star Trek canon.

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It was footage from “The Cage” that opened this week’s Star Trek: Discovery episode, seamlessly linking Roddenberry’s original vision for the show with its newest iteration. Instead of recapping what happened during last week’s “Light and Shadows,” viewers got clips of the original Pike (Jeffrey Hunter), Number One (Majel Barret) and, of course, Spock as they discover the Talos system and make first contact with the Talosians and Vina (Susan Oliver). While knowing the specifics of that episode wasn’t necessary to appreciate Anson Mount’s Christopher Pike or Ethan Peck’s Spock, it certainly helped put “If Memory Serves” into context.

Though a good portion of Discovery’s audience is made up of dedicated Star Trek fans who’ve seen literally every episode, it’s reasonable to wager there’s a more casual segment that might not have seen “The Cage” or “The Menagerie.” Opening "If Memory Serves" with a direct reference to the source material serving as the basis for this week’s episode and, retroactively, the first half of this season is a great way to get everybody caught up.

On a deeper level, it represents a particular kind of fan service Star Trek: Discovery should aim for and has executed pretty well in the past. Sure it’s only a recap sequence, but it points to the fact that not only is Discovery bolstering its own story with previous Star Trek, it is, in turn, enriching its own predecessor. It isn’t easy to marry two episodes of television from such utterly disparate time periods (and to be fair, Discovery has not always succeeded in their attempts to do so, the Mirror Universe being a prime example), but “What Memory Serves,” literally from minute one, managed to join the oldest piece of Star Trek content with the newest.

At this point, for better or for worse, Star Trek: Discovery is embedding itself in the canon so deeply that while you could certainly complain about its refusal to explore its own “final frontier” and create storylines wholly unrelated to previous Star Trek, you can’t complain that it's riding on the coattails of recycled story.

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Star Trek: Discovery streams Thursdays @ 8:30pm on CBS All-Access and internationally the next day on Netflix.

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