“Return to Tomorrow” is another episode of the original Star Trek that I don’t remember very well. All things being equal, it’s not a bad episode, but it’s hardly an all-time classic. The biggest problem is probably the episode’s title. “Return to Tomorrow” doesn’t say much of anything about what is to come. It’s fairly generic and, quite frankly, dull. Heck, no one seems to be returning to tomorrow at all. Some alien intelligences are up to something, and that something could lead to scientific and technological advancement for the human race.
Quite frankly, I have some problems with it.
The episode opens with the Enterprise going somewhere no human ship has even been to before. Kirk and Company soon learn an alien intelligence named Sargon wants certain crewmembers to beam down to a chamber deep below the planet’s surface. Sargon is one of the last three members of his people, and they need to temporarily borrow some bodies to build some advanced android bodies. Specifically, Sargon wants to borrow the bodies of Kirk, Spock, and one Dr. Ann Mulhall. Mullhall is the token attractive woman for the episode. We know that because as soon as Kirk and the camera get a close up on her, the standard “romantic Trek music” plays in the background. If you’ve seen the show, you know the music. And she looks a bit familiar…
Holy crap, it’s Diana Muldaur! Dr. Pulaski has been in Starfleet much longer than Next Generation would have you believe!
Actually, this is the first of three characters Muldaur would play on any Trek series. She pops up again in season three apparently, and every time she appears, her character has the title “doctor”.
But getting back to the episode. In brief, Sargon, his wife Thalassa, and his former enemy Henoch take over Kirk, Mullhall, and Spock respectively. And then at some point, Henoch decides he’d rather stay in Spock’s body. Beyond Spock’s regular abilities, he has some awesome mental powers as well. Only through a trick Sargon, Kirk, and Spock come up with are they able to deal with getting Spock’s mind back in his body. Sargon and Thalassa share one last kiss in Kirk and Mullhall’s bodies, and then go off into oblivion. No one gets great scientific or technological advancements, as would be expected.
Now, Sargon goes into Kirk’s mind briefly before all this happens, and Kirk later says Sargon is totally benevolent and trustworthy. He even gives a great speech to convince the reluctant McCoy and Scotty to help out on how everything they do is about risk. Why not risk letting these people build bodies and explore the universe? Apparently, no one explained to Kirk the concept of “acceptable risk.”
More to point, I think Kirk is wrong. Sargon is not benevolent. He’s manipulative and condescending.
Now, it is true Sargon is of a higher intelligence. He even explains the real problem, the reason the last of his people are just intelligences in artificial orbs, is due to hubris thinking they were like gods. But you know what? Sargon is still full of hubris. The show just refuses to acknowledge that. Yes, Henoch is far worse than Sargon. Sargon will keep his promise and vacate Kirk’s body as soon as the work is done. Henoch? Not so much. Among his first words once he gets Spock’s body is to marvel the Vulcans never conquered the Earth due to the superior strength and senses of the Vulcan people. Plus, he makes it clear he wants Sargon dead, brainwashing Chapel to get what he wants.
Besides, any time we see Leonard Nimoy smile as Spock, we know there are problems afoot. Seeing Spock smile and lean casually in a doorframe tells us all we need to know about Henoch. He’s not Spock, and any time Spock isn’t Spock, there’s trouble.
But what about Sargon? Let’s start with how he gets the Enterprise to come to him. He more or less takes control of the ship from afar. Kirk, seeing no other options, goes along with the plan to beam into the planet’s underground chamber with an away team selected by Sargon. When Kirk says he wants Spock to stay behind just in case, Sargon cuts the power to the ship until Kirk changes his mind. Plus, the two security officers with Kirk’s away team are left behind when the team beams down. So, did Kirk have any choice up until that point?
In fact, given how much mental power these people have, did Sargon brainwash Kirk when the two temporarily shared a body? That seems likely. Sargon also selected the crewmembers to act as host bodies. He didn’t ask for volunteers.
He also has a habit of addressing Kirk and the others as “my children”. I don’t care what kind of explanation he has for that. It’s incredibly condescending.
Now, I won’t get too much into how little Scotty and McCoy understand about what’s going on with the construction of the android bodies (what happened to those things anyway?). I can excuse that for a sci-fi story like this. But Thalassa actually considers Henoch’s plan at one point, going so far as to psychically assault McCoy until she realizes how wrong that is.
That would be when Sargon pops in and congratulates her for doing the right thing as he knew she would. They believed he was dead up until then.
So…he does that sort of thing to his wife too? How has she not filed for space divorce?
See? Manipulative and condescending to everybody.
Arguably, knowing Henoch was his enemy, he set the guy up to fail too.
Ultimately, I don’t care what Kirk said. Sargon may have been the best of the three, but that doesn’t make him a benevolent figure.