Writing Star Trek‘s 2nd pilot
The development and scripting of “Where No Man Has Gone Before”
In February 1965, executives at the National Broadcasting Company rejected Gene Roddenberry’s pilot “The Cage”. Star Trek was dead! In this article, I’d like to discuss how it was initially resuscitated, with a script that ended up reviving the show at this early, vital juncture.
Not only did NBC consider “The Cage” “too cerebral” and “[not] necessarily a story that showcased Star Trek’s series potential” but the company was also concerned about the “eroticism” of the pilot. NBC Sales was worried that Spock would be seen as “demonic by Bible Belt affiliate-station owners and important advertisers.” The television network was also unhappy with most of the supporting cast, especially Majel Barrett as first officer “Number One”. Even though Star Trek thus was essentially no more, NBC, in an unusual but not unprecedented move for a TV network, ordered a second pilot.
Despite some claims and recent online memes crediting Lucille Ball (owner of Desilu Studios) with “saving” Star Trek – reports ranging from her persuading NBC into initiating this second pilot to having a hands-on, day-to-day influence on the show – these statements are simply not true. Although she owned and operated Desilu after her divorce from her first husband Desi Arnaz in 1960, she actually had little to do with Star Trek. Herbert F. “Herb” Solow, Desilu Executive in Charge of Production, later mentioned that, even though he had given her the scripts of this episode and “The Cage”, he doubted she had even read them. For a more detailed, factual account of Ms. Ball’s involvement in Star Trek, please see the article “Lucy Loves Star Trek?”.
Samuel Anthony Peeples, a fan of sci-fi novels who would go on to write this second pilot, was a novelist and television writer. (D.C. Fontana had been his secretary, and her first story sale was to his series Frontier Circus, with Leonard Nimoy portraying a character in the episode she wrote.) Peeples, who had been consulted by Roddenberry during the writing of “The Cage”, introduced him to the influential works of Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, and suggested to Roddenberry science-fiction writers whom he considered suitable for the forthcoming TV series. When he viewed “The Cage”, Peeples thought it needed to be less fantasy and more science fiction.
It was arranged that Roddenberry and Stephen Kandel would each write a script for the second pilot, and NBC would then choose which would go into production. Gene’s script was “The Omega Glory”; Kandel’s was “Mudd’s Women” (based on a Roddenberry story).
Peeples contributed his thoughts and suggestions regarding Star Trek in a 4 May 1965 letter. Among his suggestions: Make Number One the ship’s computer… literally; make her a robot who was linked to the ship’s computer system. Most of his ideas and story suggestions were never implemented, but he, too, was invited to write a script for the second pilot, arguably the most experienced science-fiction writer of the three candidates. Seeking his continued expertise as a consultant, it was Roddenberry who contracted him to write the script.
Besides discussing his concepts for the show with Gene, Peeples devised his own story, originally just referred to as the “Esper story.” His pitch had the Enterprise responding to a prospecting colony to pick up an esper (one who had gained extra sensory perception) for transport to a major Earth colony for “medical inspection.” En route there, the esper’s powers kicked into full mode and he posed a threat to the ship. The series concept of the Enterprise making routine visits to Earth colonies was evident in this early version of the plot, although Peeples gravitated towards having the ship instead set out to explore the unknown. Once the story was approved, Peeples proceeded to script the episode, with input from Roddenberry. He enjoyed working with Roddenberry and, unlike Kandel, welcomed Gene’s continual rewriting.
As the date of the final decision was approaching, Stephen Kandel, citing illness, did not finish his script for “Mudd’s Women”. Because that script was therefore withdrawn from consideration, it became more likely that “Where No Man Has Gone Before” would finally be picked.
There were multiple problems inherent in selling the second pilot to NBC, issues that boiled down to the alien character of Mr. Spock. His inclusion, deemed necessary in order to convey an exotic sense of science fiction, was permitted at least temporarily, until after the second pilot.
NBC chose “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, by Peeples, on 10 June 1965. The network’s audience research indicated that women in their early twenties to mid-thirties, an age group that was the prime TV viewing audience because they controlled the purse strings of most American families, were definitely not serious fans of sci-fi or fantasy but were not opposed to action-adventure. Peeples’ script, essentially an action-adventure plot with science fiction overtones, was therefore clearly a good fit. As Herb Solow put it, not only were the other two scripts discarded for their own individual reasons, but there were also multiple grounds for choosing “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, all of which he summarized by saying that it “personified NBC’s expectations for the pilot.” Solow thus recommended the script to the NBC executives, who wholeheartedly agreed. And so, on 10 June 1965, he wrote a memo to Roddenberry that instructed him to put the episode into production as the second pilot, since NBC believed it “would better complement the first pilot, and would also show the two different ranges in which the series can go.”
Director James Goldstone was involved in the episode’s pre-production from an early stage, primarily so he could help decide which of the three scripts would be produced as the second pilot. Despite being close friends with Stephen Kandel, Goldstone agreed with choosing “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.
When screen credits were submitted to the Writers Guild of America for approval, Roddenberry opted not to take credit for the story. However, there was some later discussion about who had originated the title “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, with Peeples emphatically stating that he, not Roddenberry, had written the phrase as the title of his own story.
Regardless of who wrote what, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was now on its way to becoming Star Trek‘s second pilot, and the script would undergo further revisions on its way to the screen.
After Christopher Pike was briefly considered to be the lead captain character in this second Star Trek pilot, the Enterprise captain was renamed “Peter York”. This name, which was one of many Roddenberry considered for the character and appeared in his first draft of “The Omega Glory”, was soon crossed out and replaced with “James Kirk”.
The first draft script of “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (dated 27 May 1965) begins with a rather unwieldy opening narration which, in later script drafts, was tagged as being spoken by “Kirk” instead of “Narrator”. Fortunately, by the time the actual series went into production, this monologue was trimmed and rewritten to become the more familiar “Space, the final frontier” in the TOS titles sequence.
In fact, Peeples’ first draft of the script was changed relatively little – it is about eighty-five percent what was finally filmed. Some names are different – here, we have Lieutenant Clark (not “Gary”) Mitchell, Lieutenant Leroy (not “Lee”) Kelso and Ship’s Doctor Johnson (Johnson is only referred to by his last name once; the senior staff are simply tagged as “Ship’s Doctor”, “Ship’s Engineer”, “Ship’s Physicist”, etc.).
The action opens on the bridge, and omits the introductory chess game between Kirk and Spock, as well as Mitchell’s introduction in the elevator. Spock and Mitchell are old friends, Kirk has no history with him. This initial script draft also made mention of “The Vegans,” a race of humanoids on planet Vega IV, some of whom were espers.
Small differences throughout, but after a couple more drafts (and some uncredited rewriting by Gene Roddenberry), it was the same, solid, action-filled science fiction story… but with a cast which, in retrospect, is more familiar to us. The only character returning from the first pilot would be Mr. Spock, and the ensemble of characters now included Lieutenant Sulu, whose name was an in-joke reference, by Roddenberry, to Herb Solow’s surname. A plot point Roddenberry added was the episode’s climactic fistfight between Kirk and Mitchell.
In Herb Solow’s opinion, there were many specific aspects why he believed the script more worthy of production as the second pilot than either “Mudd’s Women” or “The Omega Glory”. In Solow’s words, “The new captain, soon to be named ‘Kirk’, was heroic and valiantly fought to the finish against crew members who had developed demonic powers. Mister Spock was present but not too importantly; the script called for shots of the Enterprise bridge pulsating with futuristic bells and whistles and shots of the ever-evolving galaxy; the ‘transporter effect’ and the hand-held ‘communicators’ (originally called ‘transicators’) were both still there; the action-adventure story was light years away from being too cerebral. And not even the most conservative of conservatives could characterize the female guest-star role, later performed by Sally Kellerman, as being too erotic.” All in all, it seemed that “Where No Man Has Gone Before” not only remedied the headaches associated with “The Cage” but also looked due to birth the show, leading it into regular production.
Next time, I’ll discuss the process of casting the second pilot.
David Eversole has been a Star Trek fan since he saw “The Apple” in 1973 at age nine. He has written spec scripts and pitched (most notably for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). A two-time winner of the Rod Serling Memorial Scriptwriting Contest, he lives with his wife Annie in Ohio. His script reviews for TOS episodes can be found here.