Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 21

The Return of the Archons

Aired Unknown Feb 09, 1967 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (8)

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out of 10
182 votes
  • Kirk visits a planet run by a mysterious character named Landru.

    On the surface, "Return" is a good, basic episode of Star Trek. Kirk, Spock and company beam down to a planet to solve a mystery and step by step think their way past the obstacles put in their path. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy all get some interesting things to do, the special effects are nifty, and the score, though borrowed from previous episodes, works well. The script even invents the Prime Directive and has a sense of humor, with Kirk getting off a particularly great one liner at the end. Yet for all its strengths, the episode leaves more questions than answers, unwilling to develop its loose ends.

    Like "Miri", "Archons" borrows the Desilu Culver backlot for location shooting and includes very human looking aliens. It's basically a story about the issue of conformity, though you can argue that it also has communist (and drug) overtones. Whatever the case, Kirk's not going to stand for it, stepping into his frequently revisted role as the disrupter of happiness. He doesn't like it when people think they've found inner peace, preferring when humanity is scratching and clawing its way to its goals (unless you can distract him with a pretty woman, in which case he'll probably leave well enough alone). What's fun here is that as Kirk and company try to outthink their opponent, that opponent (who comes into clearer focus as the story moves along) tries to outthink him, turning the episode into a cerebral game of move and countermove that's more interesting than a simple fight.

    Along the way, the "Red Hour", a time of violence, mysteriously comes and goes. Crewmembers, including Sulu and McCoy, somehow fall into the planet's cult. The Lawgivers, a mysterious group of authorities shrouded in robes, carry magic sticks that Spock can't explain. But none of it is explained. It's as if either Roddenberry or Sobelman had some ideas in mind when they were developing the story only to decide later these things weren't worth revisiting. It's a bit of a shame, because the overall plot has a beautiful intelligence to it, and if these loose ends were tied up, the episode would really stand out. As is, it's remembered as more of an oddity, a story with more potential than is delivered.

    Remastered: The only visual effects needed for this story are shots of the Enterprise in orbit, with the original episode lifting these from "The Enemy Within". The new version upgrades them, and gives us a unique planet that matches the surface environment.

  • Poop the Final Frontier

    This episode was poop. It makes no damn sense! Star Trek was such a hit or miss show. There are some CLASSICS and then duds like this one. I just can't get passed the setting and costumes. This show needed a bigger budget and producers hat weren't buttmunching douchebags who sleep with the cast members and fire them.
  • Religous Zealots take heed!

    This might be my most watched episode because I've spent a good part of my life around religious folks and I just *love* the metaphors and comparisons. I also think there may have been a wink towards 1960s drinking culture there as well; l but I can't really prove that... I also can't prove that this wasn't Roddenberry's cheap shot at communism but I never saw the connection until I read a few here. Communism just doesn't rule you like Landrew or (hypothetically for example) the Muslum or Christian religions might aspire to.

    Message: why do you keep doing the same rituals (festival?!) when you know they're self destructive and archaic. Archaic? Archon? Huh!

    Landrew and his followers remind me a lot of my religious contemporaries who are believing in something even less provable. Hey, Landrew *shows up* once in a while!!!

    Of course, the idea of direct resistance to authority was PARAMOUNT to the 1960s..."it seems you simply misunderstood our command - you will come!" - in the 1960s you said "no" for the first time to these guys!

    The opening act ending where Sulu nearly looks into the camera and slowly utters "Paradise!" is one of my very favorite in all of TOS. But another time capsule moment where we wonder today: so without any other data - what the hell would be wrong if Sulu DID think he saw paradise? Got a problem with that?! A very Jack Web shaking his head kind of moment.

    Anyway, the pull the plug thing at the end and walking away I thought was a little cold - but very Mid 60's conservative I guess.

    All in all a great plot that could NEVER had been said *any other way* back then; except safely in outer space. Could the point be said today on moden day television? Maybe not.


  • Kirk and a landing party investigate a world, with parallels to 1900s Earth that seems to be a peaceful civilisation but is being controlled by the unseen 'Landru'. I have to say, I'm the opposite of most reviews – I love this one!...

    This review contains spoilers.

    I was surprised to find that this episode was held in such low regard by other reviewers, as personally I really like this one. (But I suppose that's part of 'Star Trek's appeal – there are different stories that appeal to different people; something for everybody).

    Much of what I love about this episode is it's quirky nature; the people living as if they were from the 1900s, with strange speech patterns and, of course, 'The Festival'. Such quirkiness could just as easily come from classic British 1960s series such as 'The Prisoner' or 'The Avengers'.
    In particular, the scene where everybody is acting pleasantly, the suddenly the clock strikes twelve and everybody starts going crazy, could easily have been an opening teaser for 'The Avengers'.

    The Festival itself is never fully explained; partly that's a shame, but partly it adds to its weirdness. I suppose it can ultimately be put down to the misguided rule of Landru.

    The episode also has elements of other things I like – a cult (Landru's followers), and even zombies (as the 'hypnotised' civilians slowly march towards Kirk and co., in one of my favourite 'Star Trek' scenes).

    The concept of beings being governed by a misguided computer would be used a number of times again in 'Star Trek' and it's later various spin-offs; there are even vague traces of it in 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' (1979). (If that film had had more of the intrigue of this episode, I think it would have fared much better.)

    If there is anything wrong with this episode, it is that the later stages are a bit too talky and dragged out; the last act or so could have easily been slimmed down.

    But all-in-all, unlike many, I really like this episode. It has quirkiness and mystery too it, and is a great tale in my opinion. Others will disagree.
  • Kirk pulls the plug on a planet’s orderly culture because he couldn’t score during one of their festivals

    There is no way this episode get a better than average rating folks. I can accept the love affair fans have with "Shore Leave" even though I strongly disagree, but this one is terribly draggy with this absorption issue terribly not making sense. I'm so tired of all the episodes where Kirk out thinks a computer. "The Changeling" was reaching a bit, but this one was downright awful. The only thing I got out of it was at some loud parties that I go to, I'll scream out "Festival, festival, festival!" Of course no one knows the reference, but who cares.
  • The balance of good and evil and free will - both on an alien world and in a 1960s TV episode. The teleplay is generally weak.

    The Enterprise investigates a weird world of people who are controlled by a computer's idea of an idyllic society.

    I suppose it's best to attack "Return of the Archons" on its good points and bad, so on the positive side: I actually like the weird combination of turn-of-the-century clothing, torchlit dungeons and western movie sets that represent the planet, it's kind of creepy. There is also a fairly risque concept here also, one of "festival" that seems to represent the idea that even brainwashed humans need some sort of outlet for their "animal" desires, so this is the way it's handled by Landru.

    What is fairly painful is the execution of the concept when it comes to the script. One of the fearsome robed "lawgivers" relinquishes his post to another with the phrase, "happy communing", the endless "peace and tranquility" references are repetitive and almost laughable. And sadly, the reasoning that Kirk uses to make the computer freeze its programming makes little sense as he provides no examples of how the "body" is hurt by lack of "creativity". And WHY the director let Kirk's flip line to the planet's residents at the climax, "well, you're on your own - hope you're up to it" stand is pretty unbelievable.

    So while there is some potential here, "The Ultimate Computer" and even "The Changeling" represent better examples of contradicting an overbearing electronic over-lord. The very good episode "Taste of Armageddon" remains the standout as a paradigm of the perils of computer decisions.
  • If I were you, I'd look for another job, Roddenberry.

    Roddenberry strikes again, somehow the person we have to thank for this entire franchise manages time after time to riddle his inputs to the show with American Propaganda Nonsense and 'Return of the Archons' is amongst the biggest of such examples.

    So let me get what I enjoyed about the episode out of the way. Firstly I appreciated the main cast's performances, specifically from Kelley who actually manages to make these zombie hippie-commies seem interesting. Indeed one of the episode's few redeeming scenes comes mid-way when McCoy is left to sit in the background like an oblivious child until he suspects Kirk and Spock's whispering. I also thought Roddenberry's dialogue was good enough throughout, it's just a shame that they are constantly blabbering on about how a different society is unacceptable.

    So naturally now I'm going to go on about what I disliked about 'Return of the Archons'. Firstly the whole 'festival' thing, although a very feasible concept, I felt was very poorly produced. The end result ends up coming off as completely absurd, wacky and unconvincing. It's dramatic and pleasing to watch just for the sheer insanity of it all, but when you take it in context of how seriously the script seems to take itself, you have to realise how poor it is implemented here. Half way through the episode however I found myself craving some more of this anarchy in place of the extremely dull and repetitive plot which moves along frustratingly slowly, heading for a conclusion that doesn't pay off at all.

    The final scenes involving Kirk defeating and outsmarting the computer lacks conviction, focus and is simply unconvincing. Never does Kirk or Spock justify how lack of creativity destroys the 'body'. In fact I could come up with a thousand reasons as to justify the exact opposite. Don't you think if creativity was necessary to keeping the 'body' alive that Landrau would have programmed such rules for the computer to enforce? Essentially the whole episode boils down to a message that any society different from that of 1960's America is unacceptable- how could anything be better than the great Democracy? Specifically however, this is a blatant attack on Communism, stinking of cold-war propaganda that I am actually ashamed Trek and Roddenberry actually thought was intelligent or justified; the sheer ignorant and biased nature of the scripts political and philosophical themes is totally unnecessary and unpleasant; this is something that I never could or would associate with any respectable production of Star Trek.

    Furthermore the society that is presented here is ridiculous in itself, with little grey to be seen between the black and white. Instead of real characters posing a threat to the Enterprise crew, what we get is a bunch of chess pieces and nothing more; mere placeholders for personal ideals and ideas about another society that the writer clearly has no grasp of. According to 'Return of the Archons', people who serve the 'body' are nothing more than zombies, walking around speaking about peace all day. So who then made the houses, harvests the food and maintains the cities on this planet? Indeed if there is no creativity in such a society, who came up with the idea for the festival? Who designed the roads, the buildings, and the clothing which seems to be an apparent fashion rather than a uniform? So in this respect, if this is indeed a warning against the great evil of communism, then it's clearly nothing more than biased capitalist propaganda at best. Never does it discuss the pros and cons of both societies. Instead the Enterprise crew is portrayed as ignorant fools, rushing in to meld things the way they want it.

    Sure there is oppression present, and sure creativity should be allowed if not encouraged, but the problem with the script is that it forces such ideals down your throat and uses them –unjustly- to condemn a form of society that is unified and spiritual. The problem with Landau's society isn't that it's a strong community and the problem doesn't lie in the people's nature- it lies in the obvious dictatorship of Landau, something similar to Communist Russia of the time, I admit, but not something inherent to a society that serves a 'body'.

    The end of the episode comes to a frustrating halt with the final discussion between Kirk and Spock on the bridge. Kirk is actually pleased that domestic quarrels have begun arising in the city and laughs it off, dismissing Spock's only intelligent line of dialogue in the episode. Oh yes, quarrelling is human alright, but so is discrimination, war, injustice, corruption and greed. Where will Kirk be when such circumstances arise? Well it's doubtful he'll be there to clean up what he naively encouraged.

    When it comes down to it, 'Return of the Archons' has definite potential, but it lacks the detail and discussion that such heavy topics require. So instead of being a coherent and solid piece of thoughtful science fiction, we end up with simple misguided writing with little to no intelligent discussion to justify its claims. As a piece of TV it fails also thanks to it's sluggish pace, dodgy acting from supporting cast and a distinct lack of any significance to main character development or Trek lore. There are some exciting moments here and there and a few good performances that help redeem some points but when it comes down to whether the episode works or not, 'Return of the Archons' just doesn't cut it; A real low-point for Trek.
  • A new episode to me, kinda …

    I thought I’d seen every episode of the original STAR TREK, but within minutes of beginning this one from my DVD box set, I realised I must’ve missed "Return of the Archons" first time around. Not that I should have been unduly bothered. I’ve seen episodes that are remarkably similar …

    The basic plot is The Enterprise discovers a planet where a humanoid race is being stifled, prevented from advancing. Turns out that this is because of some alien influence, in this case, a computer. Kirk applies some of his faultless Earthman logic/philosophy and the computer realises that it’s been in error and self-destructs. Sounds familiar? It should – this story has been done about half a dozen times in later ST-TOS episodes.

    I suppose some merit should be awarded because this was pretty much the first time this one was done, but since this plot cropped up several times later in the show’s run, then this seemed all too familiar to me – though I hadn’t seen it during the 1970 when I first watched the show.