The Great Star Trek Rewatch: Return to Tomorrow

When the Enterprise approaches a long-dead planet, they are surprised to receive a greeting from Sargon – an alien dwelling deep beneath the surface. Sargon and the two other survivors of his civilisation gave up their bodies long ago, and are now pure energy, confined to small receptacles. Sargon has a proposition for Kirk, however – in exchange for sharing his advanced knowledge with humanity, he and his people will need to borrow the bodies of Enterprise crewmembers in order to build themselves android bodies in which to dwell. But if they regain living, feeling bodies, will they have the strength to relinquish them once more?

If you’ve ever watched or read any kind of supernatural horror story, you’ll know that lending your body to a being who promises to give it back rarely ends well, and this episode is no different. That being said, this isn’t quite an “advanced aliens take control of the Enterprise and her crew and act like dicks” episode, because actually each of the three aliens has a distinct personality. Sargon is the moral backbone of the trio – not only does he have every intention of keeping his word, but he has even set rules about which of his race’s great abilities they should even use. Henoch, a survivor from the other side of the conflict that destroyed the planet, is the evil one – not only does he plot to kill Kirk/Sargon, but he also plans to keep Spock’s body for his own. Thalassa, Sargon’s wife, is of course the ‘impressionable woman’ of the trio – in general, she is in agreement with Sargon, but Henoch is able to manipulate her in wanting to keep her human body by pointing out that, as an android, she will not be able to feel real emotions and sensations. All in all, it makes for a more nuanced story than “all of these godlike aliens are arseholes”.

Notes and observations

  • The redshirts get to survive in this episode, by dint of not even being allowed to beam down to the planet.
  • Female officer of the week Dr Ann Mulhall is played by Diana Muldaur, who would return years later as TNG’s Dr Pulaski.
  • Scotty turns out to be one of those people who think they know how to do your job better than you do, as he flat out tells Thalassa that she and Sargon can’t possibly be building functional android bodies with the components they requested.
  • In the 24th century, Dr Soong will be able to build Data, an advanced android who will eventually gain emotions. Yet Sargon, for all his boasting about superiority, cannot build a decent set of android bodies for himself and his allies? Perhaps they could have even gone down to the morgue and rustled up some dead bodies to inhabit for a while.
  • Sargon claims that his people seeded the galaxy, and that humans and Vulcans might be their descendants – hence the story of Adam and Eve, or “certain elements of Vulcan prehistory”. Of course, in TNG, another set of aliens claims that they seeded the galaxy with their DNA, and that is why all humanoid races are so similar. It’s all hokum, of course, but for narrative convenience and budgetary reasons, of course most of the aliens have to look human.
  • Perhaps because of their mental superiority and capacity, Sargon, Thalassa and Henoch cannot coexist with Kirk, Mulhall and Spock’s consciousnesses – the latter three have to swap into the small receptacles. Yet Spock and Nurse Chapel’s consciousnesses are able to coexist in the same body – is this because they are so much more limited? Or maybe it’s because of course Vulcans can transfer their consciousness, or katra, to other people anyway (not that this is a thing yet).
  • Kirk tells McCoy that medicine with scalpels and the like is a thing of the past, but of course in Space Seed there were just scalpels lying around in sickbay, so they are still pretty recent.
  • When Henoch takes over the bridge, Sargon has to keep everyone in the dark as to what’s really going on in case Henoch reads their mind and figures out the ruse – but Christine/Spock is right next to him! Does Spock have some Vulcan way of shielding himself? Was Sargon protecting Christine’s mind from being read, which would surely be equally suspicious?
  • How exactly did Sargon remotely boost the transporter’s capabilities? He could control the instructions sent to it, perhaps, but how could he change the fundamental limitations of the hardware?
  • This episode marks the return of Mr Sulu to the bridge, although instead Chekov is absent.

Summary – Return to Tomorrow: Lending your body to a stranger? What could possibly go wrong? Also, not a sequel to Tomorrow is Yesterday.

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