(written from a Production point of view)
The Enterprise discovers a planet where the population act like zombies and obey the will of their unseen ruler, Landru.
Lieutenants Sulu and O'Neil are undercover and dispatched to the surface of the planet Beta III to learn what became of the Archon, which disappeared there one hundred years earlier. Recognized as outsiders, they draw the attention of the lawgivers. Pursued, the officers call for beam-out, but O'Neil flees before they are to be beamed up, only Sulu is retrieved, and upon materializing in the USS Enterprise's transporter room, he is in a strange mental state, stating to Captain Kirk that the planet below is "paradise, my friend. Paradise…"
Captain Kirk beams down with a larger landing party to investigate. Spock, Dr. McCoy, sociologist Lindstrom, and two guards, Leslie and Galloway, form the balance of the landing party. Immediately upon being beamed down, Spock notices a strangeness in the people they encounter; a kind of contented mindlessness expression on their faces. Then, at six o'clock, the red hour strikes – the beginning of the Festival, a period of debauchery and lawlessness. Fleeing, the landing party bursts in on Reger, Hacom, and Tamar. They had been told by Bilar and Tula, two passersby, that Reger could rent them rooms for after Festival. Their questions seem to terrify Reger. They are given rooms and retreat from the mayhem outside, trying their best to get a few hours' sleep.
The Festival ends at six the next morning. Reger, learning the landing party did not attend Festival, concludes they are not of the Body, and asks an astonishing question: "Are you Archons?" The conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Hacom and lawgivers, the robed servants of the mysterious Landru. The lawgivers command the landing party to accompany them to the absorption chambers, to be absorbed into "the body."
Kirk, acting on a hunch, defies them – and causes confusion. He'd correctly concluded this society is built around obedience, and might not be ready for any disobedience. Taking advantage of their confusion, Reger guides the crew to a place he knows, where they will be safe. But on the way, Landru employs a form of mass telepathy to command an attack, which is easily repelled by the landing parties' phaser fire. Among the attackers is… the missing Lieutenant O'Neil. Reger warns against bringing him along, but Kirk cannot bring himself to abandon a member of his crew. He orders Leslie and Galloway to take the still-unconscious O'Neil with them over the strenuous objections of Reger.
Through his tricorder, Spock discovers a source of immense power, radiating from a point near the landing party's location. Reger tells Kirk about the arrival of the first Archons: many were killed, many more were absorbed. And then he drops the bombshell, mentioning casually that Landru pulled the Archons from the sky… Kirk contacts the Enterprise, and learns that heat beams are focused on the ship. Scotty, in command of the Enterprise, reports that her shields are able to deflect them, but nearly all ship's power is diverted to this purpose. Communications are poor, escape is impossible, and the orbit is decaying. If Kirk can't put a stop to the beams, the ship will be destroyed in less than twelve hours. Worse, contacting the ship enables Landru to discover and stun the landing party with an intense sound.
They awaken in a cave-like cell, but McCoy, Galloway, and O'Neil are missing. Kirk begins to think of ways to get out of their cell. He asks Spock about the lawgiver's inability to cope with the unexpected. Spock, noting that in a society as well organized as Beta III's appears to be, he cannot see how an oversight like that can go on uncorrected. He does find one thing interesting; the lawgiver's reaction to Kirk's defiance was similar to a computer's when fed insufficient data. Kirk disputes that the lawgivers are computers, not Human. Spock replies that they are quite Human, it is just that there are facts missing currently as to why they behave like computers. Soon after, McCoy and Galloway return – and they have been absorbed, with McCoy speaking similarly to the way Sulu had on the Enterprise. Evidently, this is the fate that awaits the entire landing party. Lawgivers appear, demanding Kirk accompany them, and this time, Kirk's refusal results in an immediate death threat. Spock was correct; the orderly society has now corrected a flaw.
Kirk is taken to a futuristic room: the absorption chamber. There, a priest named Marplon will oversee Kirk's forcible induction into the Body. Spock attempts a Vulcan mind meld with McCoy but is unsuccessful. Lawgivers summon Spock, who is taken to the same place, and there encounters Kirk, now mindlessly happy.
Spock learns that Marplon was Tamar's contact and is part of the same underground to which Reger belongs. Marplon intervened to prevent both Kirk and Spock from being absorbed, and returns their phasers to Spock. Spock, acting as instructed, makes his way back to the cell, pretending to be as mindlessly happy as Beta III's inhabitants.
Discussing Landru and his society, Kirk and Spock reach the same conclusion: the society has no spirit, no spark; Landru's orders are being issued by a computer. Kirk decides the plug must be pulled. Spock is concerned this would violate the Prime Directive, but Kirk opines that the directive applies to living, growing cultures, of which this is not. When Reger and Marplon join them, Kirk demands more information: the location of Landru. Reger reveals that Beta III was at war, and was in danger of destroying itself. Landru, one of the leaders, took the people back to a simpler time. And, Marplon claims, Landru is still alive.
Marplon takes Kirk and Spock, disguised as lawgivers, to a chamber, the Hall of Audiences, where Landru appears to his acolytes – or, at least, a projection of him does. There, Landru regretfully informs them that their interference is causing great harm, and that they, and all who knew of them, must be killed, to cleanse the memory of the Body. Blasting through the wall, Kirk reveals the truth: an ancient machine, built and programmed by the real Landru 6,000 years earlier before he died. This machine, now calling itself Landru, was entrusted with the care of the Body, the society of Beta III. To that end, it has enslaved all members of that society, and those who visit, in a thralldom of happiness that is stagnant and without creativity.
Kirk and Spock discuss this with Landru, asking it difficult questions it has evidently never had to answer, questions about whether its approach to creating the good is really creating evil. Ultimately, they convince it that it is the evil, and that it must destroy the evil – and it does, exploding in a burst of pyrotechnics.
Kirk leaves a team of specialists, including Lindstrom, to help restore the planet's culture "to a Human form".
"Are you Archons?"
- - Reger, to Kirk and the landing party
"Landru seeks tranquility. Peace for all. The universal good."
- - Landru, appearing before Kirk's landing party
"Then you will die."
- - Lawgiver and Kirk
"This is a soulless society, Captain. It has no spirit, no spark. All is indeed peace and tranquility – the peace of the factory; the tranquility of the machine; all parts working in unison."
- - Spock, on the society run under Landru's influence
"You will be absorbed. Your individuality will merge into the unity of good, and in your submergence into the common being of the body, you will find contentment, fulfillment. You will experience the absolute good."
- - Landru
"Mister Spock, the plug must be pulled."
- - Kirk, on destroying Landru
"Captain, our Prime Directive of non-interference."
"That refers to a living, growing culture… do you think this one is?"
- - Spock and Kirk, Kirk cheerfully violating the Prime Directive
"I cannot answer your questions now. Landru… he will hear!"
- - Marplon
"Isn't that somewhat old-fashioned?"
- - Kirk, after Spock punches a lawgiver
"Snap out of it. Start acting like men!"
- - Kirk, to Reger and Marplon
"He's still alive. He's here, now. He sees, he hears. We have destroyed ourselves! Please… no more."
- - Marplon, speaking about Landru
"You said you wanted freedom. It's time you learned that freedom is never a gift. It has to be earned."
- - Kirk, to Reger and Marplon
"Without freedom of choice, there is no creativity. Without creativity, there is no life."
- - Kirk, to Landru
"You are the evil! The evil must be destroyed!"
- - Kirk, inducing Landru's self-destruction
"If I were you, I'd start looking for another job."
- - Kirk, to the lawgivers
"I prefer the concrete, the graspable, the provable."
"You'd make a splendid computer, Mister Spock."
"That is very kind of you, Captain."
- - Spock and Kirk
"How often mankind has wished for a world as peaceful and secure as the one Landru provided."
"Yes. And we never got it. Just lucky, I guess."
- - Spock and Kirk
- Story premise "The Perfect World" in Star Trek is...: 11 March 1964
- Story outline "Paradise XML" by Gene Roddenberry: 20 July 1964
- Story outline "Landru's Paradise" by Roddenberry: 22 July 1964
- Story outline "The Return of the Archons" by Boris Sobelman: 28 August 1966
- Revised story outline: 29 August 1966
- Revised story outline by Gene L. Coon: 14 September 1966
- First draft teleplay by Sobelman: 11 October 1966
- Second draft teleplay by Sobelman: 24 October 1966
- Revised teleplay by Steven W. Carabatsos: 1 November 1966
- Final draft teleplay by Coon: 10 November 1966
- Revised final draft teleplay by Roddenberry: 29 November 1966
- Additional revisions: 30 November 1966, 1 December 1966, 2 December 1966, 5 December 1966, 7 December 1966
- Filmed: 6 December 1966 – 14 December 1966
- Day 1 – 6 December 1966, Tuesday – Desilu Stage 9: Int. Bridge, Transporter room, Dungeon cell
- Day 2 – 7 December 1966, Wednesday – 40 Acres ("Mayberry" backlot): Ext. Beta III town.
- Day 3 – 8 December 1966, Thursday – 40 Acres ("Mayberry" backlot): Ext. Beta III town.
- Day 4 – 9 December 1966, Friday – Desilu Stage 9: Int. Dungeon cell, Absorption chamber, Boarding house upstairs room
- Day 5 – 12 December 1966, Monday – Desilu Stage 10: Int. Subterrain chamber, Boarding house main room
- Day 6 – 13 December 1966, Tuesday – Desilu Stage 10: Int. Hallway, Hall of Audiences
- Day 7 – 14 December 1966, Wednesday – Desilu Stage 10: Int. Hall of Audiences
- Original airdate: 9 February 1967
- Rerun airdate: 27 July 1967
- First UK airdate: 22 November 1969
Story and script
- This episode started out as a candidate to be the first Star Trek pilot, alongside "The Cage" and "The Women" (aka "Mudd's Women"). After the former was chosen by NBC, Roddenberry's story idea rested for more than two years. Freelance writer Boris Sobelman later picked up Roddenberry's original story, and developed it further, retitling it "The Return of the Archons". (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One [page number? • edit])
- According to the trivia section on the video release, "The Archons" was a club Gene Roddenberry belonged to at school.
- A subplot involving Lindstrom falling in love with a local girl was cut from the episode's final draft script. 
- Just why Festival takes place, or how frequently it occurs, is never made entirely clear. However, in his write-up of the episode in Star Trek 9, James Blish describes Reger telling Tula as he consoles her during the aftermath, "It's over for another year."
- This episode marks one of four times Kirk is able to "talk a computer to death". He also talks a computer to death in "The Changeling", "I, Mudd", and "The Ultimate Computer". A similar theme of a population controlled by a machine is also shared with the Season 2 episode "The Apple".
- This episode has the only teaser to fade out with a close-up on George Takei. The first-act opening is also unique, featuring Kirk's log narration playing over three different shots of the Enterprise in orbit around Beta III.
- Bobby Clark, who leaps through a window and then cries out "Festival! Festival!" has his only speaking role in the series in this episode. A frequent stunt performer on the series, he can also be seen as one of Chekov's vaporized henchmen in TOS: "Mirror, Mirror".
- Some of Harry Townes' dialogue was dubbed by Walker Edmiston. (citation needed • edit) Edmiston also dubbed an unnamed lawgiver, who runs into the hall of audiences after Landru was destroyed by Kirk. 
Sets and props
- The location scenes for this episode were filmed at the 40 Acres backlot in Culver City, the same place where "Miri" and "The City on the Edge of Forever" were shot.
- The absorption console that Marplon uses appears later, with modifications, as Norman's relay station in "I, Mudd", a control panel on Memory Alpha in "The Lights of Zetar", the housing for the cloaking device in "The Enterprise Incident", and the Elba II force field control panel in "Whom Gods Destroy".
- The cell in this episode shows up later in "Errand of Mercy" and "Catspaw".
Music and sound
- To ensure the becalmed Beta III civilians moved at the same time as each other, prerecorded drumbeats were played on the exterior set then muted during post-production. ("Swept Up: Snippets from the Cutting Room Floor", Star Trek: The Original Series - The Roddenberry Vault special features)
- This is the first episode in which Scotty assumes command of the ship.
- This is the first mention of the Federation's Prime Directive. Confusingly, a second Prime Directive is discussed later in the episode; that of Landru's society, when Landru states "The good of the Body is the Prime Directive." This is mentioned by Landru and Kirk several times during a conversation, while the Federation's Prime Directive is mentioned only once.
- The crew of the USS Cerritos will return to Beta III 113 years later. (LD: "No Small Parts")
- The preview trailer gives the stardate for this episode as 3192.1 (versus 3156.2, in the episode's dialogue).
- Roddenberry picked this as one of his ten favorite episodes for the franchise's 25th anniversary. (TV Guide August 31, 1991 [page number? • edit])
- In the book, Boarding the Enterprise, Eric Greene observes that "Return of the Archons" is the first time Star Trek attempted to deal with issues of war and peace raised by the Vietnam War, and established a template that would be used in a number of subsequent episodes such as "A Taste of Armageddon", "This Side of Paradise", and "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky". The Federation's moral superiority is exhibited through its emphasis on individual freedom, progress, and resort to violence only in self-defense, while the Betan society is criticized for its state control, stagnation, and reliance on aggression. Greene argues that these episodes prefigure the Borg Collective, a far more overt totalitarian, even Soviet metaphor introduced in the series Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Video and DVD releases
- Original US VHS and Betamax release: 1985
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 12, catalog number VHR 2305, release date unknown
- US VHS re-release: 15 April 1994
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 1.8, 2 December 1996
- Original US DVD release (single-disc): Volume 11, 23 May 2000
- As part of the TOS Season 1 DVD collection
- As part of the TOS Season 1 HD DVD collection
- As part of the TOS Season 1 Blu-ray collection
- The episode was adapted into issue nine and ten of IDW's alternate reality Star Trek: Ongoing comic series.
Links and references
- Brioni Farrell as Tula
- Sid Haig as First Lawgiver
- Charles Macauley as Landru
- Jon Lormer as Tamar
- Morgan Farley as Hacom
- George Takei as Sulu
- James Doohan as Scott
- Nichelle Nichols as Uhura
- Sean Morgan as O'Neil
- Ralph Maurer as Bilar
- David L. Ross as Galloway (credited as "Guard")
- William Blackburn as Hadley
- Bobby Clark as Rioter
- Frank da Vinci as Brent
- Walker Edmiston as Third Lawgiver (voice over)
- Lars Hensen as a Betan passerby
- Jeannie Malone as a yeoman
- Eddie Paskey as Leslie
- Barbara Webber as Dancer
- Unknown actors as
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- "The Return of the Archons" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "The Return of the Archons" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "The Return of the Archons" at Wikipedia
- "The Return of the Archons" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
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