In the world of “Trek,” Pike is one of the earliest captains of the Enterprise, successor to the ship’s first captain, Robert April, and immediate predecessor to James T. Kirk. “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned Pike as a captain who, while skilled and capable, struggled with “self-doubt and the loneliness of command.”
This and more was embodied by Jeffrey Hunter in the original series’ initial pilot episode, “The Cage.” When we first encounter the captain, he’s grown very disillusioned with his responsibilities on the Enterprise. “I’m tired of deciding which mission is too risky and which isn’t,” Hunter-Pike grumbles in an early scene, “and who lives … and who dies.” He even has it in his mind to resign — that is, until he, his science officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy, of course) and first officer Number One (Majel Barrett) encounter a race of telepathic beings on the planet Talos IV.
Hunter-Pike is understandably prickly when he is abducted (and later experimented on) by the Talosians. The actor’s performance is very much in line with those of his scenery-chewing contemporaries: there’s no shortage of bluster or bravado in his take on Pike. It’s not perfect — in fact, it might have been a bit too “stiff” for NBC’s liking — but it’s almost endearing that Hunter took the material so seriously. His gruff, no-nonsense captain was an unlikely fit for the extraterrestrial hijinks in “Star Trek.” Hunter seemed just as baffled by the Talosians as audiences might have been watching the series for the first time, and it made him a great entry point for casual viewers.