Captain’s log: stardate 3156.2
The Return of the Archons was penned by Boris Sobelman from a story by Gene Roddenberry and had an original airdate of 9 February, 1967.
The Enterprise is investigating the fate of the U.S.S. Archon that went missing a century ago. There is a being, known as Landru (Charles Macauley) that has ruled the planet Beta III for 6,000 years. The denizens of the planet are pleasant, complacent, controlled, part of The Body, overseen by robed Lawgivers, but Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam down to investigate on the eve of Festival, when baser instincts are released as a venting process.
Reger (Harry Townes) gives them rooms to rest in, and from there, they begin their investigation, and make a frightening discovery.
This brings up a bit of a discussion of the non-interference rule of the Prime Directive, as we learn that the free will of the planet’s inhabitants have been removed and controlled by something else for their own protection. Kirk says the directive doesn’t apply because the people are stagnant, and not prone to advancing.
This is suggested by the clothes they wear, intentionally dated to imply that they have found themselves stuck in a past that cannot advance, and any dissenting voices of the Body, or Landru are absorbed or eliminated.
That definitely suggests the culture is no longer advancing, and it is this grounds that Kirk uses to violate the Prime Directive.
But before then, the Enterprise, with Scotty (James Doohan) in command, must deal with Landru’s assault – an incredible energy attack is bringing the starship down. Now Kirk must not only resolve the mystery of the Archons, who or what Landru is and save his ship.
When I was introduced to this episode as a child, this one didn’t quite hold my attention, there aren’t a lot of action beats, and there were some big ideas at work here that I couldn’t quite fathom at that point.
Now, the discussion of free will and the presence of a group mind is prevalent to my viewing eye, and I find it much more entertaining. Group mind can be applied to government or religion, while the Federation always values the individual and their differences and how they interact with society as opposed to a fixed, shared concept that everyone believes. Without the uniqueness of each person, things remain stagnant, unchanging.
The thing that has stayed with me since the first time I saw it is the first man they encounter when they arrive, he has a weird intonation in the way he speaks, and a disconcerting smile. It was actually very unnerving.
In the end, Kirk leads the revolt against Landru, where we see that they were an advanced culture at one point, and then pushed back to a ‘simpler’ time giving up control of themselves to Landru to maintain their peace, instead of the destruction they were driving themselves to.
Now, with the knowledge of what they were, what they have been, are the people of Beta III any better off, or will they tumble towards self-annihilation again? Whatever happens, their free will has been returned.
Captain’s log: stardate 3141.9
This is the one.
Carey Wilber came up with the story, that Gene L. Coon helped turn into a teleplay, and on 16 February, 1967 the world was introduced to Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban).
On patrol, the Enterprise comes across the S.S. Botany Bay, a ship launched in the latter part of the 20th century during the end of the Eugenics Wars, of which the ship’s passengers were a product.
In a suspended state, the genetically modified and enhanced Khan and his crew have drifted through space for almost three hundred years. The crew of the Enterprise rouse them from their centuries long sleep and trouble begins.
Khan’s aggressive behaviour begins to show itself very quickly, as he comes into conflict with Kirk, and seduces and dominates Marla McGivers (Madlyn Rhue). She is the the ship’s resident historian and archaeologist, and she quickly finds her professional detachment eroded by her attraction to Khan, until she is forced to choose between her duty and her heart.
Khan is an alpha male, superior intelligence, and physically perfect, but does that make him better?
Now, it doesn’t matter in the episode, but when Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan come along there is a bit of a slip-up that has been addressed in the novel, but never discussed in canon. Chekov (Walter Koenig) wasn’t on the Enterprise yet, or at least not on the bridge, and yet, Khan says he knows him.
The episode is filled with sharp writing, and well-crafted moments, that set up the conflict between Kirk and Khan nicely. Of course, at the time, they didn’t know how nicely. Montalban is exemplary here, perfectly cast, emanating power, and menace, and you know things are going to turn out badly, very, very quickly as he reveals his plans to take the ship.
Khan, and his followers aren’t above torture and abuse to get what they want, eschewing compassion for power and violence. Consequently Kirk and Khan have to match intellects and brawn before the episode ends, and we see that just because they are genetically augmented, that doesn’t make them more human.
Kirk leaves Khan and his followed on Ceti Alpha V, but that will not be the end. At least not for a few decades.
A lot of fun, smart, and exciting, this episode is definitely one of the best of the series and even now, engages, and captivates in its storytelling.