Star Trek (1967): S01E21 – Return of the Archons


Introduction

“The Return of the Archons” is the twenty-first episode of the first season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek.

In the episode, the crew of the Enterprise visit a seemingly peaceful planet whose inhabitants are “of the Body”, are controlled by an unseen ruler, and enjoy a night of violence during “festival”.

The episode contains Star Trek’s first reference to the Prime Directive.

Outline

On stardate 3156.2, the Federation starship USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), arrives at the planet Beta III in the C-111 system where the USS Archon was reported lost nearly 100 years earlier. Lt. Sulu (George Takei) is the only member of the landing party who beams up from the planet’s surface, and exhibits strange behaviour. Kirk beams down with another party to investigate. They find the inhabitants living in a static, 19th-century Earth-style culture, with little or no individual expression or creativity. The entire culture is ruled over by cloaked and cowled “Lawgivers”, controlled by a reclusive dictator known as Landru (Charles Macaulay). The landing party has arrived at the start of “Festival”, a period of violence, destruction, and sexual aggressiveness which apparently is the only time Landru does not exercise control over the Betan populace.

Kirk’s landing party seeks shelter from the mob at a boarding house owned by Reger (Harry Townes). A friend of Reger’s suspects that the visitors are “not of the Body” (the whole of Betan society), and summons Lawgivers. The Lawgivers kill Reger’s friend, Tamar (Jon Lormer), for resisting the “will of Landru”. When the landing party refuses to do as the Lawgivers say, the Lawgivers become immobile and Reger leads the Enterprise landing team to a hiding place. Reger reveals that Landru “pulled the Archons down from the skies”. Contacting the ship, Kirk learns that heat beams from the planet are attacking the Enterprise, which must use all its power for its shields. Its orbit is deteriorating and it will crash in 12 hours unless the beams are turned off.

A projection of Landru appears in the hiding place, and Kirk and his team are rendered unconscious by ultrasonic waves and captured. The landing party is imprisoned in a dungeon, and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is “absorbed into the Body” and placed under Landru’s mental control. Kirk is taken to a chamber full of high technology, where he is to be “absorbed”. But Marplon (Torin Thatcher), one of the priests of Landru who is immune to Landru’s control, rescues him and Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Returning to the dungeon, Reger and Marplon tell how Landru saved their society from war and anarchy 6,000 years ago and reduced the planet’s technology to a simpler level.

McCoy summons the Lawgivers to “absorb” Kirk and Spock, who subdue them and don their robes. Marplon takes Kirk and Spock to the Hall of Audiences, where priests commune with Landru. A projection of Landru appears and threatens Kirk, Spock, and all Betans who saw the landing party with death. Kirk and Spock use their phasers to blast through the wall and expose the truth: the reclusive Landru is actually a computer and Landru who built the machine had died 6,000 years ago. The computer neutralises their phasers. Kirk and Spock argue with the machine, telling it that it has destroyed the creativity of the people – killing “the Body”. Concluding that the computer’s prime directive is to destroy evil, Kirk forces the computer to self-destruct, freeing the people of Beta III.

The heat beams stop, and the Enterprise is saved. Kirk agrees to leave Federation advisers and educators on the planet to help the civilisation advance, free of Landru’s dominance.

Star Trek TV Series

You can find a full index of Star Trek TV series here.

Star Trek TV Series, Films, and Documentaries

You can find a full index of all Star Trek TV series, films, documentaries here.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Joseph Pevney.
  • Production: Desilu Productions (1966-1967) and Paramount Television (1968-1969).
  • Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures (1966-2006), CBS Paramount Television (2006-2007), and CBS Television Distribution (2007-Present).
  • Original Network: NBC.
  • Release Date: 09 February 1967.
  • Running Time: 50 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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