Star Trek: The Original Series episode 21 review

Another redshirt bites the galactic dust in our continuing look at the re-mastered original series now on Blu-ray...

Episode: 21Title: The Return Of The ArchonsStar Date: 3156.2Writer: Boris Sobelman based on a story by Gene RoddenberryFirst Shown: 9th February 1967

It might seem strange to say this, but in season one of the original series Gene Roddenberry seemed content to avoid what might be seen as entirely science-fiction stories; instead the series is happier with storylines that concentrate on emotions and dilemmas of the characters. But presumably buoyed by success, the show gets more ambitious in these respects as it progresses, and The Return Of The Archons, written by Boris Sobelman, has an almost pure science-fiction-based premise.

It starts with Sulu and a disposable redshirt beaming down to the planet Beta III in search of a ship lost 100 years earlier called the Archon. Only Sulu returns in a confused state after being attacked by the inhabitants.

When Kirk, Spock and Bones beam down to investigate, they discover a society which is modelled on 19th century America, but with some unusual differences. The citizens are strictly controlled by the lawgivers, except during a ‘Red Hour’ where for a period of time (longer than an hour, strangely) no law exists and people go on a rampage of sex and violence. This appears to be some sort of a control mechanism, devolved from a dictator Landru who appears to use mass telepathy to control the populous.

Ad – content continues below

Because they don’t attend the ‘festival’ of debauchery, the crew of the Enterprise soon come to the attention of the lawgivers, and they’re captured to be asked, “Are you the Archons?”. When they realise they’re not the Archons, or ‘of the body’, they decide to ‘absorb’ them into the culture using technology that makes people mindless. Luckily for Kirk and co, there is also a subversive underground group who free the crew and allow them to unravel the truth behind Landru.

He isn’t a living person, but a powerful computer left 6,000 years previously to look after the people on the planet. It’s eventually disabled in a classic theological argument about the nature of good and evil, where it concludes it’s evil and destroys itself. Now set free from Landru, the Federation leaves representatives with them to help their progression into a more normal culture.

There are several interesting aspects to this story; most notably, it’s the first time that the ‘Prime Directive’ is mentioned, and discussed. There’s a debate about how possibly the Enterprise should allow those on Beta III to continue their culture in whatever way it’s developed. But Kirk makes the counter-argument that this isn’t a living developing culture and as such it’s acceptable to try to make it so.

The other noteworthy detail is the appearance of the brilliant Torin Thatcher as renegade priest Marplon. This British born actor often played villains, including, most memorably, as Sokurah the Magician in The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958).

But if you want bad guys, then the next review up contains one that enjoys the Klingon proverb ‘revenge is best served cold’. Yes, it’s Kahn!!!!!!!!!!!!!! In the original series story Space Seed.