Written by Boris Sobelman and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Joseph Pevney
A theme that ran through many of the science fiction shows in the 1960’s was the fear of technology taking control of man, rather than the other way around. The theme reached its peak in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Star Trek touched on that theme as well on several occasions. One of the more uneven episodes is The Return of the Archons.
The Enterprise is orbiting Beta III, a planet near which a ship, the Archon disappeared a hundred years before. Sulu (George Takei) and another crewman, O’Neill (portrayed by Sean Morgan), are on Beta III, which resembles turn of the century Earth, but the residents also seem to be clothed in distinctly colonial garb.
Sulu and O’Neill are being pursued by unknown forces and communicate with the Enterprise. O’Neill runs off before they can be transported up and Sulu is approached by a cloaked figure who points a stick at him just prior to his transport back to the ship. When he emerges from the transporter, he seems quite different from the Sulu we know.
When Kirk, Spock, and McCoy (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForrest Kelley) beam down to the surface with several other members of the crew, they encounter people who are walking around apparently in a trance-like state. They are asked if they are there for the festival, which begins in a short while. This “festival” looks more like rioting than anything else. After twelve hours, the “festival” is over. Kirk and his team have watched the events from the shelter of a nearby home. The owner of the home, Tamar (portrayed by Jon Lormer), seems unconcerned that his daughter is out in the streets which distresses the team. The owner states “It is Landru’s will.”
Just who or what is Landru? That is something they need to figure out along with what’s going on and what happened to the Archons.
One of the elders rats them out, and the same cloaked figures approach them. Kirk and company defy them outright, something they are not prepared for. When they attempt to escape the city, Landru apparently communicates with the citizenry through telepathy and sets them after the outsiders.
Their host helps them hide out, and on the way they locate O’Neill. They also learn that the Archon did not crash but was pulled down from the sky by Landru. This makes their rooting out of the source of this control over the society all the more imperative.
The story is somewhat complicated, but it is paced quite nicely. There were few moments where it bogged down. It just keeps revealing a little at a time throughout the episode and worked very well that way. The only exception is that the way the episode wraps up has the feeling that they ran out of time and hurried to make it fit.
The acting is a bit uneven. While I realize the actors can do only so much when they are given dialogue that is less than stellar, they also seem to have difficulty with some points here. The landing party doesn’t seem sufficiently nervous about their safety while the “festival” is occurring but seems to feel they are somehow protected from rioting which includes the smashing of windows and pillaging.
It also bothered me to see the way the landing party is ready to run off once they have located O’Neill, leaving their host, Tamar, to suffer the consequences for helping them. They seem to be half-heartedly thinking of staying to root out what’s behind it all until they learn the Enterprise is in peril as well.
I also have a gripe about the use of a planetary setting that looks like Earth with slight modifications. This is done over and over again and I understand that it is a product of budgets and the time period, but it gets old. I find it hard to believe that there could be one planet out there so similar in culture and physiology to Earth, never mind coming across planets again and again.
The Return of the Archons is not the best of Star Trek but it’s not the worst, either. It’s something that most fans and non-fans can watch again and again if you can forgive the setting.