The Enterprise is en route to Starbase 9 for resupply when things go wonky and they find themselves back in the late 1960s just before the “moon shot” in Tomorrow is Yesterday. Now, before we get into the episode, let me point out that this series ran from 1966 until 1969. This is season one so… math it out. The episode aired in January of 1967. Why that’s significant is that the moon landing was in 1969. Now, this isn’t stated in the episode, but it was prescient for the series at the time and it deserves being mentioned. I should also point out the significance of the “resupply” mission. By the end of Arena, we should be down to 410 crewmen. A resupply might be in order for staff as well as supplies. But McCoy says there are 430 crewmen on board. Where did the extra 20 come from? Were they picked up along the way? Or is McCoy counting the chickens before they board? Maybe 20 members were climbing on board once they hit Starbase 9. Or it might have been on Signet 14, where they stopped for repairs. Knowing Kirk, picking up 20 females would be easy if he were “adding them to the crew”. (Recall, Signet 14 is a female dominated world.) Let’s move on…
We learn that there are only 12 ships in Starfleet like the Enterprise. I wonder if he means with intelligent beaming capabilities. Let’s be honest, when they beam Captain Christopher out of the aircraft as it breaks up, he is sitting down (as one does in an aircraft). But he’s beamed onto the ship standing up. I mean, this is outstanding technology! The convenience of such a thing is magnificent. You would never have to worry about sitting at you computer desk while beaming occurs because you would not fall on your backside when you appeared on the alien ship! You’d be standing up. (Um, readers from the future, I’m sitting down typing this and trust your technology. Beam me up!) On top of that… (I feel a bit like a real estate agent trying to push my property but come on, this ship has it all…) it even has food synthesizers in the transporter room!! Bored waiting to slide those three levers? Have a snack in the transporter room. Chicken soup? Corned beef and cabbage? No ship says “home” like the one with a food synthesizer in the transporter room. (I am considering putting a microwave in the garage for just those peckish moments …) And the transporter panel is clearly easy to learn. Captain Christopher walks over to it and activates the communications panel at a glance. (Maybe Scotty labeled it, having learned from his old pal, the Doctor?)
Now there are also a number of oddities that warrant explanation. How did Spock ignore the potential offspring of Captain Christopher? Did he forget a person could have children? Maybe an oversight like that is an easy one to make but what about turning off a tractor beam when the thing you’re tugging has broken into pieces? Spock had to ask if it was ok to turn off, but this is doubly idiotic. Wouldn’t the logical Spock consider the ramifications of the falling debris? “Oh, Captain Christopher offers no contributions to the future, but a guy name Ted was just killed when the pieces of aircraft fell out of the sky because we turned off the tractor beam carrying said aircraft. Now his son won’t be born to go on to write 50% of the best website in the universe. Without him, his friend will never suggest creating that website to begin with and the future is destroyed because we didn’t keep the crap in the tractor beam!” Like, duh?? Destroy the Junkyard at your own peril, Spock! And what’s up with the Federation anyway, that 1960’s Earth is going to leave the Enterprise stranded? I mean, yes, it’s a bit awkward for the humans, but what, did Vulcan stop existing? What about other Federation members? Couldn’t Kirk go to one of them and ask for help with the “slingshot effect” if they really needed to? And a lot of the end of the story hinges on Captain Christopher knowing where to beam the crew into the base, but I’ll be damned, I don’t know the coordinates to where I’m sitting. (I hope readers of the future will know my coordinates!) I asked my son, “could you give me the coordinates to this house so I could beam you down?” You know what he said? He said no. (Obviously!) You know why he said no? Because people don’t know their beaming coordinates now and this episode took place in 1969, that’s why!!
Was Tomorrow is Yesterday a fun episode? Absolutely. Jim’s simple look when his computer starts flirting with him is enough to win major points for the episode. But is it good? I’d say not really. Fun and good are not the same thing. I enjoy the humor of the episode and the chemistry of the cast, but there are far too many plot oversights to do this story justice. And really, how do we beam a person back into their own body anyway? The Enterprise crew just discovered slingshots, but they can beam a future version of a person back into a past version, complete with wiped memories? WHAT? To quote a certain someone… most illogical Captain! ML
The view from across the pond:
When I saw the title of this episode I was hoping for some time travel, and I wasn’t disappointed. Seeing the Enterprise flying in the skies of 1960s America is such an incongruous sight that it captures the imagination straight away. The explanation of what puts them there is just a bit of sci-fi technobabble, but that doesn’t really matter. This is a big moment, and everything feels a bit wrong.
Adding to the feeling of unease is the sight of the bridge of the Enterprise in darkness, crippled by the “time warp” while en route to a Starbase for “re-supply”. We are so used to seeing all those flashing lights and lit screens that a bridge with the lights off seems alarmingly odd. It’s just a shame those screens are creased, betraying the fact that they are made of paper or fabric and not actually any kind of a screen! Before we get to the time travel stuff it’s worth taking note of that line about “re-supply” at a Starbase. As entertaining as Mike’s countdown of the Enterprise crew compliment has been, they’re obviously not going to keep running on fewer and fewer staff forever. They will bring on new recruits when they can.
The main thrust of this episode is the interaction between 1960s Americans and humans from the future, which sets up a potential grandfather paradox, and raises some ethical questions. Alarmingly, Kirk is ready to kidnap John Christopher and never return him home in order to protect the future, until he finds out that he is going to have a son who will be instrumental in the events that lead to the existence of the Federation, manning the first Saturn probe. I have to keep stopping myself from getting annoyed with Star Trek for not being Doctor Who, but this line got on my nerves:
“They show no record of any relevant contribution from a Mr John Christopher.”
If only somebody could have spoken up about the “relevance” of each and every human, it would have been one giant leap towards an episode that was so much more than this turned out to be. Instead, it’s little more than Kirk finding a way to solve the problem of the week, and doing so with a bit more technobabble.
What we really want to see from an episode like this is the Enterprise crew interacting with contemporary humans down on the planet, and it takes a frustratingly long time for any of that to happen. When it does, it’s nothing more exciting than Kirk’s fight of the week. It turns out that three blokes are more of an obstacle than the Gorn, taking Kirk down pretty quickly. Who would have guessed that? Then again, there aren’t any handy explosive powders lying around for him this time. Kirk’s interrogation was the best part of the episode, an enjoyable war of words, and I loved Kirk’s response to the threat to lock him up for “200 years”, a knowing Shakespearean aside direct to the camera:
“That ought to be just about right.”
The episode walked the line between excitement and comedy and tended to lean towards the latter. That’s all well and good, but having posed an exciting dilemma it would have been more satisfying to focus on the problem of the grandfather paradox in a more serious manner, and find a resolution that made more sense than some baffling nonsense about transporting people back to a time before the events of the episode had happened, by somehow beaming them… what, into their own bodies in the past? But who am I to stand in judgement anyway? Maybe one day in the distant future somebody will look back on my life, and tick a box that says “no relevant contribution”. Then again, maybe the human race will actually evolve beyond such value judgements instead. Star Trek offers us an interesting future, but you really have to take the rough with the smooth. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Star Trek: Court Martial