Episode: Tomorrow is Yesterday
Episode number: 19th episode aired, 22nd episode produced
Written by: DC Fontana, a prolific and legendary Star Trek writer who worked on many of the series and wrote novels. Also, a lady.
Directed by: Michael O’Herlihy, a prolific TV director
Captain’s Log: Did you know that at the height of the Cold War, all Air Force
personnel were issued their own radar operators? I learned this in the Star Trek episode Tomorrow is The Day After Next Tuesday, which we’ll be discussing in this edition of Star Trekkin’. At the opening of this episode, Yesterday is Tomorrow,
we are in the office of a very lowly Air Force guy. He’s so lowly that
he has no window, his office wall appears to be a piece of foamcore
painted grey and his desk appears to have been borrowed from a local
high school principal. His personal radar operator tells him that a UFO
has appeared on their scopes; as this Air Force guy’s usual job is to
monitor latrine efficiency, he jumps at the chance to get involved and
immediately scrambles all of the stock footage he can.
footage planes take off and on one of them is Captain John ‘Standard’
Christopher, whose plane comes up on the UFO and discovers that it’s…
the Enterprise! Holy shit, I had totally forgotten I was watching Star Trek.
the bridge Captain Kirk is checking on the well-being of the crew. The
ship had just been battered while trying to escape the gravitational
pull of a ‘black star’ (funnily enough, Kirk’s ‘black stars’ would get
names later on that same year, and it wasn’t The Jackson Five. It was
‘black holes,’ and physicist John Wheeler would come up with the term a
few months later in 1967), and they don’t know where the fuck they are.
Uhura reports that she can’t pick up anything but static on the usual
Starfleet channels, and she’s pretty concerned that she’s going to miss
Just then they pick up some radio signals… radio
signals that announce that the first manned Moon shot takes off on
Wednesday. Kirk remembers that the first Moon landing happened in the
60s, so they must have been sent back in time (and in space). As the
crew starts puzzling that out, Uhura picks up more transmissions – a
fighter jet is closing in on the Enterprise, and ground control wants
him to engage. As the fighter jet, piloted by Captain John ‘Beige’
Christopher, approaches the Enterprise he begins reporting back to
ground control that he’s seeing something huge, and with two utterly
extraneous cylinders on top of it. Back on the ship, Spock is sort of
being a dick and getting everybody worked up. ‘Like, what if they have
NUKES on that plane?’ he asks. The Enterprise, whose engines are, in
technical parlance, fuxored, can’t really get away from the plane fast
Kirk has a moment to make a decision. He makes a bad one
– he puts the plane in the ship’s tractor beam. This would seem to make
it tough to ever outrun the plane, as they are now towing it, but this
is Kirk’s decision. And his decision becomes obviously worse in a
moment as it becomes clear that the plane is too fragile to handle the
tractor beam, and it starts breaking up. Kirk is forced to beam the
pilot, Captain John ‘Drab’ Christopher, aboard the ship.
course the Enterprise is out of its own time, and Kirk and his crew
don’t know what this means for history. Could they be changing history
by their very actions, rendering themselves and their future obsolete?
Despite all of these worries, Kirk welcomes Christopher on board the
ship, shows him that FutureBabes wear miniskirts to work (and are
accompanied by wacky sax riffs on the soundtrack), takes him to the
fucking bridge (where Kirk’s only caveat is for Christopher to be
careful of what he touches), and even gives him a Starfleet uniform. Oh
yeah, and he introduces him to Mr. Spock, the resident goddamned alien.
You would think that it would be very easy for Kirk to in some way, I
don’t know, blindfold or incapacitate Captain John ‘Why Do I Have Two
First Names’ Christopher until they can decide what to do with him, and
how best to not screw up the timestream.
Only Spock seems to
be even modestly aware that all of this could be a ‘bad idea.’ He warns
Kirk that an unscrupulous man could take all of the info he learns on
the Enterprise and impact the outcome of the future. Kirk realizes that
his half-Vulcan first officer is correct and then lets the primitive
wander the ship at will.
Kirk and Spock meet with Captain Hank
‘Snappy Nickname’ Larry and try to find out what to do with him. They
have a couple of hours, since the engines won’t be fixed for a while,
and Kirk figures that maybe he can outline the winners of the next 200
World Series for the good Captain. While they’re chatting, it turns out
that Kirk’s personal computer has developed the personality of a woman.
In the terms of a 1960s TV show this means it keeps cooing to Kirk and
calling him dear. Why is the computer like this? Because the Enterprise
was repaired at a female planet, and the females of this female planet
decided that the computer needed more personality! Later on Kirk will
threaten to junk the computer and it all but cries. Why that so-called
‘genius’ JJ Abrams didn’t work this into his reboot we’ll never know.
Captain Christopher ‘Who?’ John tells Kirk and Spock that once he gets
back down to Earth he is damn sure going to rat them out. It’s his
duty, despite the fact that gabbing about this could ruin the future.
And then Spock drops a pretty dickish bomb: historical records indicate
that the Captain will never do anything of any value. Looking at
Captain John ‘John’ Christopher, I’d guess the dude is in his 30s.
Imagine being told for a fact that you would never contribute
anything of any value to the world or history; that your sudden
disappearance would, in fact, has no impact on the world. That’s some
cold, cold shit. But for the Captain there’s some schadenfraude to be
found – even when the Enterprise’s engines get fixed, the ship has
nowhere to go, being two hundred hears early for its own launch.
Everybody is trapped.
Kirk lets the Captain wander around the
ship, which is the latest in a series of terrific choices this episode.
Captain Christopher immediately tries to escape, judo chopping a
security guard and stealing his phaser. He demands to be beamed back to
Earth (they even explained beaming to him!), but Kirk shows up and
introduces the Captain to his much more advanced, futuristic judo
Down in sick bay McCoy and Kirk discuss the dilemma.
They’re going to run out of supplies eventually, and they can’t simply
beam their whole crew down to Earth and hope to live there without
fucking up the timestream (well, any more than they have already fucked
it up by giving the Captain a guided tour of the coming centuries). And
on the other hand they can’t just bring the Captain back to the future
with them. Not because he has a wife and kids… no, because he’d be useless. There’s a weird utilitarian thing that comes out of Star Trek every
now and again, a glimpse of a world that maybe isnt as free and
enlightened as we’d like to believe, and the idea that a man can’t come
to their time because he’d be useless is one of those glimpses. Besides
the fact that the man could obviously eventually adapt (and that he
could be a serious boon to historians), there’s the basic question of
why Kirk et al are judging other people on their ‘usefulness’ and who
determines what and who is useful. I’m picturing babies with
deformities being beamed into the Sun here.
Oh, and as we would see in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the only use a person from the past has to have in the 23rd century is that Kirk must want to bone them.
this point Spock shows up ready to eat some crow, or whatever the
Vulcan for crow is. See, he did some further research and it turns out
that the Captain is useless to history, but his balls are priceless.
His son will be on the first manned mission to Saturn. ‘But I don’t
have a son,’ Captain John ‘Thick’ Christopher says. And this, of
course, is the point – he’s got to get back to Earth to pump his wife
full of his milquetoast seed.
Meanwhile the Enterprise has
another problem; the crashed remains of the plane will have been found
by now, and the onboard cameras will have all sorts of pictures of the
Enterprise. Kirk needs to get that shit back – he needs to keep
knowledge of future spaceships from 1960s eyes, and in case Christopher
goes back to Earth he doesn’t want there to be any physical evidence to
back up the dude’s reports. In other words, he wants to make everybody
think Christopher is crazy, something that could have been avoided
simply by politely but discretely locking the guy up when he was beamed
In true Star Trek The Original Series tradition, Kirk
himself beams down to the Air Force Base, which I believe is Base We
Ran Out of Money In the Set Decoration Budget. There are grey walls, a
fire hose and… a case of trophies. Kirk is down there with Sulu (who,
in one scene, is wearing what appears to be eleven inch lifts), and
they use a space-lockpick to break into a computer room. Faced with a
giant bank of reel to reel computers (which likely store 700 megabytes
of data across 30 square feet), Kirk mercifully remembers enough about
the antiques from a museum visit to be able to steal the reels. But
there’s trouble – a security guard decked out in a fabulous purple
uniform stops the two Starfleet officers; he confiscates a phaser and a
communicator but accidentally hits the emergency button and finds
himself beamed up to orbit.
At this point the security guard turns into the Lou Costello version of
the US Armed Services. Faced with bizarre activity – he was teleported
into a futuristic room with an obvious alien, Mr. Spock right there! –
his training kicks in and he becomes the human fucking statue. Just
frozen on the transporter pad. A mockery of a sham of the bravery of
our men and women in uniform. Fie on you, Gene Roddenberry! You lost
the Vietnam War with this horrible portrayal of our fighting forces!
With the plane’s data in hand, now Kirk and Sulu have to make their way
to the dark room (watching this episode I couldn’t help but cry out
‘Zounds! How would they know what the fuck a dark room even is?’)
to get the footage the gun cameras shot. Is this as boring to you as
the episode was to me? The episode just drags this stuff out because
they obviously have no money to do anything this week, and so we get Kirk and Sulu skulking around as two dorks in aprons saunter out of the dark room.
With the negatives in hand, it looks like all is well, but it turns out
that Kirk tripped an alarm. Three security dudes hightail it to the
dark room; Kirk runs out to fight them (in actuality he just sort of
flings himself at them. It’s a weird technique, flop jitsu or
something) to buy Sulu time to beam back to the ship with the evidence.
Well, except for the evidence that IS James T. Kirk.
While Kirk holds his own with a combo of flop jitsu, judo chops and
weird acrobatic hanging from the doorframe moves, he gets captured and
then interrogated. Kirk treats it all like a joke, probably because
just like the audience he realizes this is all a stalling tactic to
bring the episode to full length. The interrogation brings up nothing
interesting, funny or amusing, and then Spock and Captain Christopher
beam down to nerve pinch and fight the security guys. Christopher grabs
a gun, intent on yet again attempting to escape, but this time he gets
the Vulcan nerve pinch for his trouble.
And we’re back on the Enterprise again. Now the crew has to figure out
what to do with their cargo – now with an extra dude from the past, who
has been allowed to wander the ship and see the food processors in
action and everything! – as well as get home. Spock figures that if
they slingshot around the Sun they can do some hoojah with the whatsits
and the shingshang and they’ll get flung back into the future. But it
is a one in a hundred chance or something, plus they have to make their way past the Earth while time traveling and return their human cargo back before they met the Enterprise folk.
This, of course, makes no sense. The ship goes through the rigamarole
of slingshotting around the Sun – lots of moments with the bridge crew
leaning left and then SUDDENLY! leaning right to give us the illusion
of space turbulence – and then Scotty has to beam these people back at
the exact moment they originally left Earth, and in the same
spot. Besides that just seeming utterly impossible – like having
Michael J Fox throw a bullseye during a 7.0 temblor – but it just
doesn’t make any sense. Scotty beams these dudes back into themselves
before they are originally beamed up the Enterprise. What the fuck? How
does… who thinks…. what the… Wouldn’t beaming you into your past
self just mean that your two meat husks suddenly and messily occupy the
same space? And how would this make these guys forget what they had seen on the Enterprise? And how would it make the Enterprise not turn
the Captain’s plane into spare parts? None of this makes any sense. You
would think that instead of writing seven pages of Captain Kirk sitting
around in an Air Force interrogation, DC Fontana might have worked on a
theory of time travel that would be the least bit plausible?
In the end the Enterprise comes to a stop in its own time, and Uhura
picks up Starfleet on the phone. Kirk tells them that the Enterprise is
home, and I’m sure that Starfleet command, who didn’t even realize that
the ship had subjectively been away for a day or two but objectively
probably returned to right when it traveled back in time, just said
Review: You can never tell with Star Trek. Some of the best episodes are the ones where they obviously have no budget and are stuck on the ship. And then some of the episodes where they obviously have no budget and are stuck on the ship are the most excruciating. While Tomorrow is Yesterday isn’t a completely excruciating episode, it’s one that just moves in circles, dragging ass until it gets to the next plot point. Especially painful is the utterly lactile Captain Christopher, a generic nobody of a character. While the possibilities of having the Enterprise show up in America in the late 60s seem endless, the reality of the show’s budget meant that the possibilities were reduced to one grey corridor. Truly snoozy.
Kirkin’ Out: Trying to buy Sulu some time to beam back to the Enterprise with footage of their ship, Kirk just jumps into three security guards and engages in some truly wacky, semi-acrobatic fisticuffs.
Spockmarks: Once again acting the pointy-eared jerk, Spock calmly tells Captain Christopher that he’s never going to amount to anything, and Spock has the historical records to back that statement up. Later he needlessly critiques the wing camera footage from Christopher’s plane.
Dilithium Bullshit: This episode is chock full of terrible time travel. The .
Staff of the Week: While not a member of the Enterprise crew, this week’s award must go to the Air Force security guard who deals with the shock of being beamed about the ship by going tharn.
Continerdity: The slingshot around the sun time travel method would be re-used in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but mysteriously unused in 2009’s Star Trek (if Spock had simply traveled through time to before Nero killed Kirk’s dad and then traveled to the future again he’d be in his own time and could fix all sorts of crap). Kirk tells Christopher that the Enterprise is one of 12 such ships in the fleet. Starfleet Command is called Starfleet Control, and Kirk tells Christopher that he works for the United Earth Space Probe Agency. The episode is set in 1969, two years after it aired, and it managed to actually guess the day of the week of the Apollo XI launch. The food synthesizer only ever appears in the transporter room one more time.
Set Phasers to Quote: “It also has an unfortunate tendency to giggle” – Spock
One Negative Baby Clint Howard Out of Five