Return to Tomorrow

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"Return to Tomorrow"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Episode no. Season 2
Episode 20
Directed by Ralph Senensky
Written by John Kingsbridge
Featured music George Duning
Cinematography by Jerry Finnerman
Production code 051
Original air date February 9, 1968 (1968-02-09)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"A Private Little War"
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"Patterns of Force"
List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

"Return to Tomorrow" is a second season episode of the original science-fiction television series, Star Trek, first broadcast February 9, 1968, and repeated August 2, 1968. It is episode #49, production #51, written by John T. Dugan, under the pen-name "John Kingsbridge", and directed by Ralph Senensky.

In this episode, telepathic aliens take control of Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock's bodies.


The starship Enterprise receives a distress call from a lifeless planet. Upon arrival, a telepathic being named Sargon addresses Kirk and Spock as "my children", and insists they beam down to the planet. Sargon is very specific about the composition of the landing party, disabling the ship's power when Kirk refuses to bring Spock, and giving Dr. Ann Mulhall falsified "orders" to report to the transporter room. The destination coordinates are beneath 100 miles of solid rock. Kirk dismisses concerns about the safety of the party, asserting that if Sargon had wanted to kill them he could have already done so.

Kirk, Spock, Mulhall, and McCoy beam to a subterranean vault; Sargon prevents their armed accompaniment from dematerializing. Sargon greets them as a metallic sphere on a pedestal. He explains that he and two other spheres are the last survivors of their race. Their essences, stored in these metal orbs, have existed here since their planet was devastated by war 500,000 years ago. They once had physical bodies, but evolved into beings of pure energy. Kirk asks why Sargon refers to them as "children", and Sargon explains that the races of the Federation may be the descendants of his people, who colonized the galaxy long before their planet succumbed to war.

Sargon transfers his mind into Kirk's body and Kirk's mind into the sphere. McCoy realizes that Kirk's metabolism and temperature are rising to dangerous levels. Sargon explains that he will need the body only temporarily, long enough for himself and his companions to construct artificial bodies for themselves. He says he will need Spock and Mulhall's bodies for his companions. Concerned by his effect on Kirk's body, Sargon returns to his orb and restores Kirk. Kirk understands what Sargon wants and is not afraid of the potential effects. Sargon allows them to consider whether they will agree to Sargon's request.

Kirk convinces the crew to agree with a rousing speech. The spheres of Sargon, his wife Thalassa, and his former enemy Henoch, are brought to Sickbay. McCoy supervises as Sargon takes Kirk's body again, and Thalassa and Henoch take Mulhall and Spock's bodies, respectively. The strangers are happy to experience physical bodies again. After they are forced to relinquish the bodies due to the metabolic strain, Henoch instructs Chapel in preparing a serum that will strengthen the host bodies.

Manufacture of the synthetic hosts begins. Kirk's body seems to weaken faster than the others, and Sargon requires additional doses of the serum. Henoch tries to tempt Thalassa into keeping their living hosts' bodies, because the android forms will be incapable of sensuality. She tries to convince Sargon, but he collapses. McCoy declares that Kirk's body has died and Sargon is gone. He is able to revive Kirk's basic functions, but has no way to restore Kirk's mind. Thalassa offers to restore Kirk in exchange for McCoy's complicity in usurping Mulhall's body permanently. When he refuses, she assaults him telepathically, but as he writhes in pain she relents. She hears Sargon's telepathic voice; he is using the ship itself as a temporary body. She explains to McCoy that Sargon has a plan, then locks him out of Sickbay. When he is able to open the doors, he finds that Kirk and Mulhall have been returned to their bodies. The spheres have been destroyed, including the one that still held Spock. Sargon says that this was "necessary", and asks McCoy to prepare a lethal injection for Henoch, who has taken control of the bridge and is torturing the crew.

Henoch prevents McCoy from injecting him, and telepathically commands Chapel to use the compound on McCoy. She pretends to comply, but then injects Henoch. Henoch boasts that he can transfer to another body, but finds he cannot. He pleads with Sargon to let him escape death, but Spock's body collapses. Thalassa and Sargon, both using the ship as a host, destroy Henoch's essence as it escapes Spock's body.

Sargon says that he could not allow the deaths of the people who helped him. Spock and Chapel's bodies glow, then Spock leaps up from the floor. Sargon reveals that the injection he requested was not lethal; it was important that everyone believe it was so to fool Henoch, so that he would try to escape Spock's body. Sargon had transferred Spock's mind into Chapel, where Henoch would not think to find it.

Sargon and Thalassa announce that they will not attempt to build host bodies, but will "depart into oblivion" instead. They make a final request: to be allowed to occupy Kirk and Mulhall's bodies one last time so they may share a final kiss.


Michelle Erica Green of Trek Today writes that the story is "an entertaining and engaging episode about power, loyalty and the struggle between physical and mental pleasures... and because there's an alien in his body, Spock spends a lot of time smiling". Of the characterizations, she adds, "Nimoy appears to be having a wonderful time playing a relaxed, calculating villain, and Shatner portrays Sargon in an amplified booming benevolent voice that makes a nifty contrast to his would-be-Kennedyesque speechifying, expounding on the values that sent humans to the stars".[1]

Green observes, "The skepticism of godlike beings runs very deep on this series", and The A.V. Club's Zach Handlen says on the same theme, "we're dealing with another race of god-beings, but for once, they aren't here to torment Kirk and the rest. This time they actually need help, and it's not because they're bored". Like Green, he enjoys the acting: "Nimoy gets a chance to ham it up here, and it really pays off. He has a half-smirk on his face most of the time, and he makes a great contrast to the somewhat overplayed nobility of Sargon and Thalassa and their love". He gives the episode a B+.[2]

Melissa N. Hayes-Gehrke of the University of Maryland found it "a nearly classic TOS plot, with god-like aliens, beings made only of energy, promises of advanced technology, and the realization that god-like powers are absolutely corrupting". She argued, though, that a "big and frustrating plot hole" is Sargon's dismissal of the idea that Starfleet might build them android bodies. "After all, the Enterprise recently discovered a world populated by advanced androids ('I, Mudd'). In fact, those androids would make anyone a body that they could transfer their mind into. We don't know for sure that those bodies have senses, but it's hard to imagine a human wanting to transfer into one for the purposes of immortality if they were limited in that way. These android bodies seem perfectly suited to Sargon's people, and it's annoying that the lack of series continuity kept it from being mentioned".[3]

Eugene Myers ranked this as a superior example of "several bodyswap/alien possession episodes of the series" in terms of acting: Shatner has a "nuanced performance, walking jerkily as though unaccustomed to legs after eons without a body", while "Nimoy, of course, clearly enjoyed the opportunity to stretch his acting—and facial—muscles, playing out of character ... to smirk, smile, and scheme his way through his scenes".[4] He rated the episode "Warp 6 (on a scale of 1-6)".


  1. ^ Green, Michelle Erica (May 12, 2006). "Return to Tomorrow". Trek Today. Retrieved September 4, 2012. 
  2. ^ Handlen, Zach (July 16, 2009). ""A Private Little War" / "Return To Tomorrow"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved September 4, 2012. 
  3. ^ Hayes-Gehrke , Melissa N. (September 20, 2008). "Episode Review of Star Trek - The Original Series Season 2: "Return to Tomorrow"". University of Maryland: Department of Astronomy. Retrieved September 4, 2012. 
  4. ^ Myers, Eugene. "Star Trek Re-watch: "Return to Tomorrow"". Retrieved September 4, 2012. 

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