In Star Trek "The Menagerie", we see Captain Christopher Pike as a dang-near-everything-plegic. He has been placed in a powered wheelchair/life support system and his only physical abilities are that he can move the wheelchair a little bit, and make a light blink. By blinking the light once or twice he can answer yes or no, if he has the patience to wait for someone to blunder into a question he wants to answer.

Why didn't they teach him to blink the light in Morse Code? Scott, Spock and Kirk all knew it in "The Final Frontier" so it must have still been around. Even if it wasn't still in common use, it was written down someplace and they could dust it off for him. Heck, it was probably some sort of elective at Starfleet Academy, or at least used clandestinely by plebes after lights out.

  • The implication, in my opinion, is that even blinking the light is too demanding on Captain Pike's system to do any more often than absolutely necessary. May 23, 2019 at 4:06
  • All the myriad suggestions of improved communications are fine and good, but unnecessary. The first time I ever saw the episode, my reaction was "Have these guys never played 'Twenty Questions'?" Anyone who has ever taken a long road trip knows how you can go from the widely general to the startlingly specific with only "yes" or "no" answers. And in this situation, more than twenty could be used (no need to play "tournament rules").
    – Blaze
    May 23, 2019 at 21:54

1 Answer 1


Narrative Necessity

As Zack Handlen pointed out ten years ago in this article, in order for the whole episode to even work, Pike has to be essentially caged within his own mind and body, utterly unable to move, unable to communicate, unable to connect.

If he were able to flash Morse Code, he'd be one step below Sir Stephen Hawking, similarly wheelchair bound but able to speak using a computer interface voice.

Narrative Necessity is any particular person, object, state, or event that must exist or occur in order for the plot to function. Without it, the story falls apart. In this case, in order for Spock to pull off stealing the Enterprise, kidnapping Pike and wasting time with the whole court martial thing, Pike needs to be as absolutely crippled as he can be without actually being in a coma. In order for Pike to be perfectly aware and conscious but simultaneously non-communicative, he must be deprived of all means of communication.

In this state, the story can function. Because, of course, the real answer is of course they could have used Morse Code! They could have hired a Vulcan nurse's aid to be in constant mind-meld with him. They could have rigged up some kind of speech synthesis computer interface (20th century tech!). Any of those alternatives would have destroyed the narrative necessity and thus precluded the Menagerie episode's plot from ever happening.

  • 2
    I think it's safe to say that the OP desired an in-universe reason. May 24, 2019 at 0:00
  • @Ham Sandwich There is no in-universe reason for this or for some of the other peculiarities of Star Trek. My favorite is a quote in which someone raised one to some power to make some point, which I have forgotten.
    – user48960
    May 27, 2019 at 19:49

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