The Good: Very Shakespearean, Decent acting, Generally good characters, Cool idea
The Bad: "Surprises" are not, Aliens of the week make little sense
The Basics: With good performances and a clever idea, "Return To Tomorrow" overcomes the character inconsistencies to present a solid hour of television.
What is the soul? What makes identity? Who are we outside our physical shells? These are questions that have plagued humanity since they had words to articulate the ideas and enough free time from farming to actually care. Star Trek decides to take a stab at answering those questions in a very literal way in the second season episode "Return To Tomorrow." By adding some intrigue and good, Shakespearean desire and obsession, the episode comes off as a success for the most part.
The USS Enterprise finds a planet devastated by a war thousands of years before (the planet has no atmosphere) where an SOS signal is coming from deep within the planet. The bridge crew is contacted from a chamber far underground and Kirk, Spock, McCoy and an astrobiologist, Dr. Ann Mulhall, beam down to investigate. There they find three globes that hold the memories and essences of three survivors of the planet's apocalypse, Sargon, Henoch, and Thalassa. Sargon requests the use of human bodies to allow the trio to construct android bodies for themselves so they may start living again and spread their wisdom throughout the galaxy. After much belaboring, Kirk, Spock and Mulhall allow the aliens to borrow their bodies while their own consciousness's are stored in the globes. Unfortunately, Henoch was the mortal enemy of Sargon back in the day, he loved Thalassa and now he sees the opportunity to be with Thalassa and kill Henoch . . . all from Spock's body.
Fortunately, the episode makes a lot of sense because who is who and whose mind is where is detailed extensively enough so that the viewer is not confused. Add to that, the producers wisely include an echo effect for the voices of the characters when they are inhabiting our recognizable characters' bodies. In short, we know when Henoch, Sargon and Thalassa are speaking because of a very easy to recognize auditory "tell." That makes the show very easy to follow.
Essentially, this is a body-swapping episode and it is a first in Star Trek. The episode does the concept well in "Return to Tomorrow," far better than in the lame series finale, "Turnabout Intruder" which tried for the same idea, but had a terrible set of characters. "Return To Tomorrow" has a set of characters that are downright Shakespearean. Henoch, Sargon and Thalassa are telling a story of jealousy, love, obsession and the way ambition twists those caught in its grasp. Henoch never gets over the ideological battles that led him and Sargon to essentially destroy their world, making his character a classic tragic figure.
But more than that, "Return To Tomorrow" shows a very easy-to-identify message and the theme is a decent one. The cost of Henoch's vengeance and Sargon's retaliation endures in the Trek universe through thousands of years. Robbed of a planet and robbed of corporeal bodies, Sargon and Henoch's war has very recognizable and tragic consequences.
Unfortunately, what makes the theme work well makes the characters make less sense. After spending thousands of years disembodied, Henoch seems awfully impatient to get rid of Sargon. One would think for a guy who has been waiting thousands of years to kill his enemy that he could wait just a little longer, especially if part of his goal is to win over Thalassa. After all, nothing turns a woman off more than killing the man she loves. But if the guy dies in an accident . . . Anyway, I "get" Henoch's desire for vengeance and the new android bodies offer him an opportunity to rid himself of Sargon and pick up Thalassa, but his impatience does not read as real to me. Not that I think that it's not realistic he would be blinded by his seething rage, but rather the immediacy of his desire to execute his plans seems awfully human and impatient to me.
Regardless, "Return To Tomorrow" is pretty solid for Star Trek and part of the reason is the actors go all out with the episode to sell the premise. This marks the first appearance of Diana Muldaur in Star Trek. Muldaur plays Dr. Ann Mulhall here and she creates a character who is distinctly different from her subsequent characters of Dr. Miranda Jones in "Is There No Truth In Beauty?" and as Dr. Kate Pulaski in the second season of Star Trek The Next Generation. Her auspicious entrance into the series establishes her as an actress fully able to take on many roles. No sooner has she established Mulhall than she is forced to embody Thalassa and she proves herself up to the task through the ability to change her body language and speech patterns sufficiently to sell the viewer on the difference.
Regulars Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner give decent performances in this outing. Despite the sheer number of bloopers from "Return To Tomorrow" on the Star Trek blooper reel, only Shatner's "Sargon is here" line still comes off as remotely comical. Otherwise, Shatner's deliveries are decent here and his delivery of the "Risk is our business" monologue endures as one of Star Trek's more memorable ones.
Leonard Nimoy is given a chance to step outside the character of Spock and it's refreshing to see the actor able to genuinely emote. Here, he smiles, connives and entices without ever feeling like he is portraying Spock suffering from an emotional episode. No, here Nimoy manages to create a distinctly different character and he pulls it off admirably.
All in all, "Return To Tomorrow" is bound to satisfy any fan of science fiction and it is remarkably well explained for those who simply want to watch a decent drama.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the second season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek reviews, please click here to visit my index page!
© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.