Archive for November, 2010

Star Trek 1.19: Tomorrow Is Yesterday

Monday, 1 November, 2010

Tomorrow Is YesterdayTomorrow is Yesterday” begins startlingly in medias res, with shots of 1960s air force jets scrambling, which could make you wonder if you were watching the right show. They’re rushing to chase down a UFO (big news at the time), and one Captain John Christopher comes within visual range of the mysterious craft… only to see it is the familiar (to us) shape of the USS Enterprise! What a pre-credits teaser!

It turns out the Enterprise has been thrown back in time by an encounter with a “black star” (the term “black hole” was invented a year after this episode was made, in 1967), and ended up orbiting Earth in an extremely low orbit – within the atmosphere apparently. This is rather low for anything to really be considered orbiting, as atmospheric drag would cause the trajectory to decay awfully quickly – in less than a single orbit, probably. Anyway, they use their remaining power to climb to a higher orbit, but not before they get approached by Christopher in his jet. Uhura picks up radio orders to Christopher to shoot down the “UFO”, so Kirk orders the jet held off with a tractor beam. But our primitive 1960s jets are incapable of taking the stress of a tractor beam – which is odd considering jet fighters are specifically built to handle dozens of Gs of acceleration. To save Christopher, Kirk has him beamed aboard.

Which is his first huge mistake. He should have just let Christopher eject, and thereby short-circuited the entire plot of this episode. Or beamed him from the cockpit directly to the ground somewhere safe. Christopher would have an unexplained story, but nobody would be able to make head or tail of it, and no harm would be done. But no, Kirk has to beam him on board, and then not have him silently beamed back down, or escorted into a holding cell to be beamed down later, but rather Kirk has to go and introduce himself and start showing the Enterprise off to this guy!

Christopher has fun wandering the ship, being shocked to see female crew members (shock horror!), and finding real chicken soup coming out of a slot in the wall. It’s still not clear if the food on board the Enterprise sucks or is actually good. It’s only when Spock points out that Christopher now knows “too much” about the future and can’t safely be returned to Earth that Kirk realises this may have been a mistake. Don’t they give these guys any training in basic time travel paradoxes in Starfleet? I realise this is the first time we see significant time travel in Star Trek (we saw the foreshadowing of it in “The Naked Time“), but really, you’d think a starship captain would know better.

To fix this mess, Kirk and Sulu have to beam down to the Air Force base and steal the radio data tapes and the photos that Christopher took of the Enterprise. Christopher has to be returned, Spock points out, because his unborn son will later go on to be commanding officer of the first manned mission to Saturn. This implies that the first manned mission to Saturn will occur… about this year. It’s depressing seeing just how often future predictions of human space travel are way ahead of reality.

At this point, with Kirk and Sulu in a comedy caper of sneaking data out of an Air Force base to fix up some wacky mess, the episode smells a bit like an I Dream of Jeannie episode. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but it feels weird in Star Trek. Kirk sneaks into a supposedly dimly lit room, which is in reality quite well lit by the studio lights, and shines a torch around totally ineffectually. Sulu makes a comment about how primitive the computers are – and for once it really fits, since they are massive machines with giant reel-to-reel magnetic tapes. (Of course the computers on board the Enterprise are also primitive by 2010 standards…)

After some shenanigans all is restored, then it’s time to beam Christopher (and a Base guard, long story) back. But not merely to Earth, they are beamed back in time as the Enterprise does a slingshot manoeuvre around the sun to return to the 23rd century. The result is that Christopher reappears in his jet cockpit, at the same time as he originally disappeared, only this time around the Enterprise isn’t there any more and the jet doesn’t disintegrate. What? How did that happen? For some unexplained reason they’ve gone back a few hours in time and erased their own presence from the first time they were there. It doesn’t really make sense, but supposedly everything is back to how it was as if the Enterprise was never there at all. The ship’s return to the future is cause for some serious camera shaking on the bridge and the crew flinging themselves back and forth as the time warp occurs. Not only does it shake the ship, but apparently rapid deceleration also flashes the lights off and on.

When I saw the opening of this episode, I was unexcited about what was about to unfold, as I recalled it was rather uninspiring. But it had a decent amount of drama and suspense, tempered mostly by Kirk’s idiot decision at the front of the episode that drove the entire plot. I think I was getting it mixed up with a later episode in which the Enterprise travels back to the 1960s… If I remember rightly that one is not as good as this one.

Tropes: In Medias Res, Time Travel, Idiot Ball, Little Green Men, I Want My Jetpack, Time Travellers Are Spies, Hollywood Darkness, Mistaken For Spies, Changed My Jumper, Get Back To The Future, Screen Shake
Body count: None!
(Image © 1966 Paramount Studios, used under Fair Use.)