February 25 2024


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Return To Tomorrow

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at May 12, 2006 - 8:32 PM GMT

See Also: 'Return to Tomorrow' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Deep within a dead planet, the Enterprise crew finds the consciousness of three extremely powerful beings, preserved after the war that destroyed their planet in large globes. Kirk, Spock and astrobiologist Ann Mulhall agree to loan their bodies to Sargon, his wife Thalassa and his onetime adversary Henoch so that they can create android bodies for themselves. Henoch, who wishes to keep Spock's body, controls the mind of Nurse Chapel to force her to poison Kirk so that Sargon will die, but Sargon transfers his consciousness into the ship's computer and convinces Thalassa that it is too dangerous for such powerful beings to inhabit humanoid forms. He restores Kirk's consciousness to his body, destroys the receptacle containing Spock's consciousness and enables Chapel to poison Henoch, driving his consciousness out of Spock's body and the ship. Then Sargon and Thalassa restore Spock's consciousness as well and depart as non-corporeal forms.

Analysis: Like so many second season episodes, the aim exceeds the grasp in "Return To Tomorrow", but that doesn't stop it from being an entertaining and engaging episode about power, loyalty and the struggle between physical and mental pleasures. It's a little absurd to think that Kirk would allow both his own body and that of his first officer to be used for so dangerous an experiment - there are many other people on the ship who would surely volunteer, whose bodies could be used just as easily to construct androids for the aliens - but because it's himself in question, Kirk gets to make one of the quintessential Star Trek speeches about exploring new vistas, and because there's an alien in his body, Spock spends a lot of time smiling.

The lessons about power in "Return To Tomorrow" are very similar to those from "Where No Man Has Gone Before", and not very hopeful - the idea seems to be that super-powerful beings tied to the lusts of the flesh are inherently dangerous, whereas they have some hope of transcending their innate desires if they become like the Organians and give up physical form. Henoch has apparently been plotting for millennia to get ahold of a body and go right back to his wicked ways, somehow hiding this fact from Sargon and Thalassa, whereas Sargon has resigned himself to living as energy and apparently has little trouble making the decision to enter oblivion rather than putting humankind at risk. Thalassa is the one who wavers; loyalty to her husband is not reason enough for her to give up Mulhall's body. She must discover for herself that she will not be strong enough to resist manipulating humans, and she does not want to be like Henoch.

As for Kirk, Spock and Mulhall, none of them really need persuading to try out the adventure of loaning bodies - it's Scotty and McCoy, who must face the practicalities, in need of convincing. Kirk makes one of his grandest speeches to explain why he's willing to jeopardize the lives of two senior officers. "They used to say, if man could fly, he'd have wings. But he did fly. He discovered he had to. Do you wish that the first Apollo mission hadn't reached the moon?" he asks - a lovely moment since the Apollo missions had not yet reached the moon when this episode was filmed. "Risk is our business," he proclaims to swelling music. "That's what the starship is all about. That's why we're aboard her." Of course, he doesn't hear any dissent after that. We never really hear what they learn from their adventure, though - I'd have loved to hear the thoughts of Spock both on existing as intellect untroubled by physical urges and on sharing mental space with Chapel, an emotional woman with passionate feelings for him. And I'd like to know what it was like for Captain Kirk, a man rather fond of the physical pleasures of life, to exist as consciousness without his body. All we find out is that the exchange feels good and is very intimate. ("It all seems rather indecent to me," as one backward human insists).

Sargon never has the opportunity to impart the wisdom he hints at in the opening, when he warns Kirk that if the Enterprise does not stop to speak to him, all of mankind will perish just as his people did. Is that just a lure? Apparently, some beings, like the Organians and the Q, successfully pass the early stages of what some humans would consider godhood and make the transition to peaceful co-existence with enormous power, but Sargon's people failed and all indications we've seen on the original series are that odds aren't good for humans to manage it if the time comes too soon. Even Sargon, who is basically a good guy, plays tricks like flickering the ship's power to convince Kirk to bring Spock to the surface and summons Mulhall without simply asking Kirk to please bring her along. And Sargon ditches the security guards for no apparent reason but allows McCoy to transport "into solid rock" - something about which the doctor is none too enthusiastic in the first place. When Sargon wishes to explain his desire for a humanoid body, he takes over Kirk's before asking - not the smartest way to win support for his cause, at least from the others. The skepticism of godlike beings runs very deep on this series.

Yet Sargon also presents the first hint of an idea that will be elaborated later in The Next Generation's "The Chase", namely that the humanoid races of the galaxy did not evolve independently but were seeded on different worlds, which would go a long way toward explaining how humans can reproduce with Vulcans and Klingons. Though Mulhall rejects the idea that Sargon's people might have been Adam and Eve, Spock says it would explain elements of Vulcan pre-history. For half a million years, these disembodied consciousnesses have presumed that the descendants of their people would eventually find them. Are these the same beings that created the puzzle from "The Chase" and then lost their own records of the event? I don't recall the question being answered in subsequent series.

Though the chamber hundreds of miles beneath the planet's surface is described as incredibly sophisticated, it has not survived the transfer to DVD well - though Spock says the walls are made of an alloy much stronger and harder than anything known to him, they look like plastic wrap over aluminum foil, and we can make better looking androids on Earth now than the one Henoch is making to hold Thalassa's consciousness. It's easy to overlook the cheesy effects though - light changing when Sargon and Kirk change bodies, McCoy tortured by colorful fake flames - because of the shipboard sights: Henoch checking out Chapel when he first awakes in a male body, Thalassa in Mulhall's body running her hands over Sargon in Kirk's, Henoch-Spock with a wide on his face as he explains to a befuddled Chapel that he intends to murder Sargon, Kirk and Mulhall blinking awkwardly at each other after sharing a passionate kiss as Sargon and Thalassa. Nimoy appears to be having a wonderful time playing a relaxed, calculating villain, and Shatner portrays Sargon in an amplified booming benevolent voice that makes a nifty contrast to his would-be-Kennedyesque speechifying, expounding on the values that sent humans to the stars.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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