Friday, 10 May 2013


TOS 1.22: The Return of the Archons
Captain Kirk vs the Computerised Society

The Mission: Search planet Beta III for signs of a lost starship, and find out what force has brainwashed Sulu and taken his landing partner.

Planets visited: Beta III: a class-M planet in star system C-111. This nomenclature is a bit confusing. Maybe C-111 is a binary star, with the planet orbiting the secondary or ‘beta’ component; the planet’s full name would therefore be C-111-Beta-III.

Alien Life Forms: The people of Beta III are completely humanoid, the first time a race is presented looking indistinguishable from humans but having no apparent link to them (even the people in ‘Miri’ were from a sort of parallel Earth). Once extremely technologically advanced, their society fell under the sway of an individual named Landru, who tried to halt its progress and essentially engineered the society in an attempt to create peace. Six thousand years later, the people live simple lives in a civilisation that appears similar to late 19th/early 20th century America. The younger generation are totally under the sway of something called ‘the Body,’ and are mindlessly happy and healthy until ‘the Festival’ starts, at which point they become violent, rapacious hooligans for twelve hours, letting out their aggression all in one go. The elder people seem to be allowed some degree of autonomy, and some, who immune to the Body’s effects, have formed a resistance.

Future Treknology: Landru programmed a computer to carry on his work after his death. The computer now believes itself to be Landru, and has created the Body as a method of keeping the population safe and happy as it understands the terms. It communicates with a holographic representation of Landru, but can also speak directly. It doesn’t last long once Kirk starts throwing problems at its programming.

The Body is a bit vaguely defined, but it seems to be an artificial collective consciousness maintained by the Landru machine’s brainwashing and telepathic influence. Lawgivers act out the machine’s will, but are unable to deal with elements beyond their received orders (in one funny moment, they decide that as Kikr has refused arrest, he must simply not understand the order). They carry hollow tubes which can channel the computer’s power, to kill or ‘absorb.’ Troublesome elements like Kirk need to be taken to a more powerful absorption machine. Other products of the Beta III tech include lighting panels which have apparently been functioning for the last six millennia.

Future History: A century before the episode, the starship Archon visited Beta III and went missing. The crew of the starship were either killed or absorbed, but caused enough trouble to pass into folklore. Aliens are now known as ‘Archons’ by the people.

Captain James T: Immediately decides to get involved when he sees that the society on the planet has gone awry. He displays no compunction about intervening in an alien culture and pushing it onto a path that he feels is morally preferable. Good for him, I say, but you can bet Starfleet won’t be pleased. When a Festival-crazed woman leaps on him and kisses him, he seems quite happy to let her stay there until someone wrenches her off him and he takes stock of the situation. After a dry run with the androids of Exo-III, here he starts his career as a skilled computer destroyer, talking the Landru supercomputer to death.

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin: Gets a good nerve pinch in. He hides his ears under a hooded cloak while on the planet. At one point, he seems to be sleeping with his eyes open.

The Real McCoy: Carries plenty of sedatives around with him. Poor old Bones gets absorbed, and goes quite mental when he realises that Kirk and Spock have evaded the process.

Future Fashion: The fashion on Beta III is formal and rather Edwardian. Kirk and Bones in particular look spiffy in their weskets and cravats.

Firsts and Lasts: The Prime Directive gets its first mention. Kirk dismisses its relevance in this situation, claiming that since it applies to developing cultures, interference in a stagnant culture is permitted.

Flash Forward: The collective consciousness here bears a resemblance to another which will one day arrive. For “We are of the Body,” and “You will be absorbed,” substitute “We are the Borg,” and “You will be assimilated.”

The Alternative Factor: ‘Return of the Archons’ is one of the episodes adapted for IDW’s ongoing comic series set in the continuity of the 2009 reboot movie. Although the basics of the set-up are the same, it proposes a very different account of the origins of this society, in which the USS Archon (there illustrated much like the Enterprise NX-01 but with movie-style Enterprise nacelles) is more central to events.

Verdict: A peculiar episode that seems quite out-of-place amongst those round it. It presents us with a planet that is essentially a skewed version of a period of Earth’s history, a technique tried out with ‘Miri’ and that will become common in the second season. ‘The Return of the Archons’ has something of the feel of The Prisoner, and is even a little Doctor Who­-y in places. This is perhaps unsurprising, since the theme of mind control was common in Sixties SF. The scenes that see mindless townspeople turn to attack the landing party, moving as one, are effectively creepy. Overall, though, it all feels quite inconsequential.

TOS 1.23: A Taste of Armageddon
Captain Kirk vs Another Computerised Society

The Mission: Open diplomatic relations with the Eminian Union.

Planets visited: Eminiar VII and Vendikar, two planets of the Eminiar system in star cluster NGC 321. Eminiar VII is home to the Eminian Union, which colonised Eminiar III, now called Vendikar, centuries ago. The two planets have been at war for five hundred years.

Future History: Fifty years ago, the USS Valiant visited Eminiar in an attempt to open negotiations with the Union, but vanished without trace. This episode marks the first time the term United Federation of Planets is used to describe the protagonists’ nation, although Robert Fox is described as the “Earth Ambassador.”  The Federation uses codes that are recognised throughout space; the Eminians reply to the initial approach of the Enterprise with Code 7-10, which basically means “Keep away for your own safety.“ Kirk threatens them later with General Order 24, which apparently entitles a starship to bomb a planet to destruction. This last one seems extremely hostile, and though Kirk was bluffing (surely he was bluffing?) Scotty understood the order so it presumably does exist.

Alien Life Forms: The Eminians are human-looking, and have names that include numbers, like Anan 7 and Mea 3. They have spared their societies the ravages of war by computerising the conflict. Attacks are simulated and casualties allocated. These unfortunates are then ordered to report for disintegration. They have twenty-four hours to do so (a coincidence that Eminiar has the same length day as Earth?), or security forces will force them to obey. That said, there doesn’t seem to be much need to enforce the law; most of the Eminians feel duty bound to report for their death sentence, understanding that it’s a sacrifice they make for the continuation of their culture. As absurd as the situation looks to us, it does have a certain logic to it, but a logic that is followed to the ultimate end and no longer makes sense. Once Kirk destroys their method of war, the two factions, with help from Ambassador Fox, begin to make peace out of fear for the alternative.

Future Treknology: The Eminian Union is technologically advanced and materially well-off. They have space travel but have never ventured beyond their own star system. Despite this, they are clearly aware of galactic civilisation at large. They use disintegration chambers to destroy the ‘casualties,’ and the guards are armed with disruptor guns (very much like the Klingons’, and for all we know, they bought them from or made them for the Empire). They have weapons powerful enough to attack the Enterprise when it is deemed a casualty and the crew do not beam down for disintegration. They also have convincing voice duplicators for impersonating captains.

Captain James T: Takes one hell of a risk here, exposing the Eminians to the wrath of their enemies by destroying the computer that runs their war for them. Sure, it all works out, but it could have led to bloodshed on a vast scale, and implicated the Federation in an interplanetary war. He bases his actions on “a feeling,” and seemingly doesn’t get into any trouble for massively altering the nature of another civilisation. He’s happy to be called a barbarian by Anan 7, and he’s altogether pretty thuggish in this episode.

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin: His telepathic abilities are getting stronger all the time; this time he influences an Eminian guard through a solid wall. He describes himself as Vulcanian. He’s capable of making mildly humorous comments, but disapproves of the Captain’s reliance on his feelings and hunches.

The Real McCoy: Doesn’t get to do much this episode, sadly. He’s mostly there to disagree with the Ambassador.

Great Scott: Left in charge of the ship again, but gets some properly juicy scenes this time. He can tell when Kirk’s voice is being faked as the orders don’t hold true, and he firmly refuses to obey the orders of Ambassador Fox when he realises they will put his crew in danger, even when he’s threatened with severe disciplinary action. As an aside, a well-known trivium is that James Doohan was actually in a similar position during his time with the Canadian military; he was threatened with court martial for refusing an order that would have jeopardised the lives of his men. Fortunately, his superiors backed him up, and he was eventually promoted. James Doohan was one awesome man.

Funny Bits: Scotty calls Fox a popinjay, and says things like “The haggis is in the fire for sure now.” It’s hard to watch this now without shouting “You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!”

Cliché Count: Kirk in a scrap, check. Vulcan nerve pinch, check. Jobsworth official jeopardising the ship, check. Kirk blows up a computer, check. Kirk meets a pretty lady, but fails to get off with her this time.

Space Bilge: The Eminians use a sonic disruptor against the Enterprise - how does a sound-based weapon propogate through space? Also, it’s described as reaching decibels of “eighteen to the twelfth power,” which is nonsensical, since decibels are magnitudinal anyway.

Future Fashion: I love Mea 3’s dress. A William Ware Theiss classic. The Eminian guards wear unbelievable hats.

Verdict: A good exploration of the stupidity and meaninglessness of war. Kirk doesn’t come across too well here, despite things turning out for the best. David Opathoshu is great as Anan 7, and Scotty really gets to shine. The Eminians are lucky the Klingons didn’t turn up instead though - they’d have bombed the fuck out of them.

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