In this episode of Trekking Through Compliance, we consider the episode Return of the Archons which aired on February 9, 1967, Star Date 3156.2
The Enterprise arrives at the planet Beta III seeking information on the USS Archon which was reported lost nearly 100 years earlier. A two-man landing party is sent to the surface but only Lt. Sulu returns from the planet and he exhibits strange behavior. Kirk beams down with another party to investigate. They find the inhabitants living in a static, 19th-century Earth-style culture, with little or no individual expression or creativity. The entire culture is ruled over by cloaked and cowed Lawgivers, controlled by a reclusive dictator known as Landru. The landing party has arrived at the start of Festival, a period of violence, destruction, and sexual aggressiveness which apparently is the only time Landru does not exercise control over the Betan populace.
Kirk’s landing party seeks shelter from the mob at a boarding house owned by Reger. A friend of Reger’s suspects that the visitors are “not of the Body” and summons Lawgivers. The Lawgivers kill Reger’s friend, Tamar for resisting the “will of Landru”. When the landing party refuses to do as the Lawgivers say, the Lawgivers become immobile and Reger leads the Enterprise landing team to a hiding place. Reger reveals that Landru “pulled the Archons down from the skies”. Contacting the ship, Kirk learns that heat beams from the planet are attacking the Enterprise, which must use all its power for its shields. Its orbit is deteriorating and it will crash in 12 hours unless the beams are turned off.
A projection of Landru appears in the hiding place and Kirk and his team are rendered unconscious by ultrasonic waves and captured. The landing party is imprisoned in a dungeon, and Dr. Leonard McCoy is “absorbed into the Body” and placed under Landru’s mental control. Kirk is taken to a chamber full of high technology, where he is to be “absorbed”. But Marplon, one of the priests of Landru who is immune to Landru’s control, rescues Kirk and Spock. Returning to the dungeon, Reger and Marplon tell how Landru saved their society from war and anarchy 6,000 years ago and reduced the planet’s technology to a simpler level.
McCoy summons the Lawgivers to “absorb” Kirk and Spock, who subdue them and don their robes. Marplon takes Kirk and Spock to the Hall of Audiences, where priests commune with Landru. A projection of Landru appears and threatens Kirk, Spock, and all Betans who saw the landing party with death. Kirk and Spock use their phasers to blast through the wall and expose the truth: the reclusive Landru is actually a computer and Landru who built the machine had died 6,000 years ago. The computer neutralizes their phasers. Kirk argues with the machine, telling it that it has destroyed the creativity of the people—killing “the Body”. Concluding that the computer’s prime directive is to destroy evil, Kirk forces the computer to self-destruct, freeing the people of Beta III.
The heat beams stop, and the Enterprise is saved. Kirk agrees to leave Federation advisors and educators on the planet to help the civilization advance, free of Landru’s dominance.
This is the first appearance of the “Prime Directive”.
- Is the Prime Directive absolute or is there room for flexibility?
- Groupthink can kill off a civilization or corporation.
- AI will always be enhanced by human interactions and interpretations.