Why Kirk Replaced Pike In Star Trek: The Original Series

Captain Pike and Kirk in Star Trek

As Captain Christopher Pike departs Star Trek: Discovery as a revitalized fan favorite, novice viewers may be curious about one of Star Trek's oldest questions - why did Captain James T. Kirk take over command of the Enterprise? Anson Mount's version of Pike became the surprise breakout star of Discovery's second season.

The Enterprise captain brought a cool, levelheaded attitude to the Discovery's bridge, rebuilding the trust that was broken by the ship's previous captain, Gabriel Lorca. Discovery managed to pull off a rare prequel feat - they ended up enriching an existing character instead of diluting them. Fans have been so enthralled with Mount's performance that there are several petitions and campaigns for CBS All Access to commission a spinoff show about Pike's years in the captain's chair of the Enterprise.

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Related: What Happens To Pike & Spock After Star Trek: Discovery

So if Christopher Pike is such an iconic, popular Star Trek character, why is Captain Kirk the face of the franchise and not him? There are both real world and in story reasons for why Captain Kirk replaced Pike.

Why Captain Kirk Took Over From Pike In Star Trek Canon

Injured Pike in Star Trek Discovery

Within the fiction, Pike was simply promoted, which made perfect sense for a man who has been routinely hailed as one of Starfleet's finest officers. Pike served as the Enterprise's captain for 15 years, an unusually long run with one assignment for a Starfleet officer; it's not hard to imagine why Starfleet promoted him to Fleet Captain, where he played a key role in training new cadets.

Pike had his tragic, life-altering accident while pulling wounded cadets out of a training exercise disaster, a future Pike himself saw in Star Trek: Discovery when he acquired a time crystal from the Klingon monastery on Boreth. The fact that Pike knew his ultimate fate years before it happened and still accepted it managed to make him an even more appealing leader than he was before.

Why William Shatner Replaced Jeffrey Hunter As Star Trek's Lead

Star Trek Discovery Light and Shadows Galileo Seven

The real world reasons for Pike's Enterprise departure are a little more complicated. The original Star Trek pilot was produced in 1964 for NBC. Jeffrey Hunter starred as Captain Pike, alongside Majel Barrett as Number One, and Leonard Nimoy as Spock. Hunter's Pike was quite a bit different from Mount's; a brooding, jaded officer who questions his future in Starfleet, Hunter's Pike gave the show a much different energy than fans are used to. NBC rejected the pilot as "too intellectual" (generally accepted as code for "boring") but commissioned a second pilot in early 1965. Hunter was a movie star slumming in television, and had no interest in making a second pilot. Virtually the entire show was recast, with only Leonard Nimoy's Spock returning from the original pilot. William Shatner was cast to play James Kirk, a much more self-assured, animated captain, and the rest is future history.

Related: Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 Ending Explained

Pike would resurface in the classic two-part episode "The Menagerie." That episode told the story of Pike's accident, and was indeed the first time audiences actually saw the character, as the original pilot never aired during the show's original run. Large chunks of the pilot were repurposed in "The Menagerie" to give Pike his happy ending on Talos IV. Jeffrey Hunter was unwilling to return, so the disfigured Pike was played by Sean Kenney under heavy makeup. Pike wouldn't play a role in a Star Trek story again until the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot film, where he was portrayed by Bruce Greenwood and served as something of a father figure to Chris Pine's young Kirk.

Christopher Pike has been something of a golden footnote since audiences first learned about him - a character deeply important to the show's mythology, but one we never really got to see much of. Over 50 years after his debut, maybe Pike's time as a cornerstone of the Star Trek franchise has finally come again.

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