It might have been nice for All Our Yesterday’s to be the last episode of classic Star Trek. It’s a very well designed story. There’s an A and B plot focusing on Kirk in a 17th Century time, accused of witchcraft while Spock and McCoy find themselves 5000 years in the past with Mariette Hartley (wearing another of the sexiest outfits in Trek history!) And it has the universe’s most perfectly named librarian, Mr. Atoz. (As in A to Z.)
The premise is that the Enterprise is to pop over to the planet Sarpeidon to see if the inhabitants need a lift because in three hours their sun will go nova. For a planet that never invented space flight, there’s nowhere the inhabitants could have gone yet they found a way to live in the past and our heroes find themselves lost in two different eras. (Time travel seems so much harder than space travel, but what do I know?)
The arctic wilderness that Spock and McCoy found themselves in seems so much more interesting to me but that was probably because Hartley was gloriously pretty as Zarabeth. I actually felt cold watching the scenes out of the cave too, which added to the sense of terror one might feel in such a situation. I admit watching Spock regress to a less civilized version of a Vulcan was interesting too. Kirk’s story did little for me because he’s largely left in a cell talking to an inquisitor who hadn’t found a barber since he went back in time, and frankly that story was lame. Being accused of being a witch is all well and good, but all Jim had to do was say, “go around the corner. If you can hear me talking to you, does that make you a witch?” (In fairness, I did love that McCoy’s nickname, “Bones” was used as proof that Jim was summoning spirits, but it was still a weak idea overall!)
At the heart of Trek, we get to see what the crewmates mean to one another. It embodies the very essence of friendship when Spock says he won’t leave McCoy in the frozen wasteland: “We go together or not at all.” But this is also the episode that Spock finally lays the verbal smackdown on McCoy for all those jibes over the years. When called a pointy-eared Vulcan, Spock grabs McCoy violently and says “I don’t like that. I don’t think I ever did and now I’m sure!” He tells McCoy to get an idea “through your head” when he feels that McCoy isn’t listening. And you know, I can’t say any of it was unjustified. McCoy even wakes from his unconscious state to immediately rip into Spock in front of Zarabeth. Talk about a jerk move! (Spock also has a great line to Zarabeth: “I am firmly convinced that I do exist!” I’m pretty convinced of my own existence, ironically!) On the other hand, I think some lines needed work: “Heating this boulder might provide some heat!” Ya think? Atoz comes off like the Mad Hatter telling Kirk and crew that they are “very late” over and over again. They certainly go down the rabbit hole on this planet. I also loved Atoz telling Kirk, “you are evidently a suicidal maniac!” And I couldn’t help think that Spock’s inability to focus might have less to do with the time period and a lot more to do with Zarabeth’s outfit!
But this is one of those strange episodes that seem to have a life outside of the story itself. Zor Kahn is referred to as a mad tyrant who sent Zarabeth to the past in exile. I felt like Kahn’s story could have gone on. Plus, I would love if they had found a way to save Zarabeth. What would it have harmed? So even though it felt like there could be more to the story that had to get cut, I was very impressed with the way this story played out. Maybe somewhere, there’s a volume II to be read in the library where Zarabeth comes back. One can hope. ML
PS: I’ve been watching these episodes with the remastered footage and the visual for the nova at the end of the story was stunning. I actually got chills watching as the planet was destroyed in the blast. It would have made such a lovely ending for the series… Instead, we get next week’s Turnabout Intruder…
The view from across the pond:
“Our basic cell structure is adjusted to the time we enter.” Eh? “You’re reverting into your ancestors.” Eh? “Unless it’s because they originally both went through the portal together.” Eh? OK, so this is science fiction without anything that remotely resembles science. Instead it’s a kind of fantasy sci-fi, but long-term readers of this blog will know that I don’t have a problem with that. The ideas should always come first, and at the heart of this episode is a very interesting idea indeed.
The library with its absurd little coloured boxes and impressive prototype DVDs that double up as small screens are just window dressing here, as is amusingly named Mr Atoz and his duplicates. The real point of this episode is the explanation for the same conundrum Star Trek is offering us nearly every week: the “instruments show that no intelligent life remains on the planet”, and yet the first thing that happens is they encounter some intelligent life. That intelligent life, Mr Atoz, has been busily saving all the other intelligent life, by sending it back into the past. For reasons best known to the writer of this episode, that happens in a library. But as most Doctor Who fans know, all the most exciting things happen in libraries.
This is clearly a fascinating concept, fraught with worrying implications, and here is where Star Trek so often becomes hugely frustrating. A writer comes up with a good idea and makes no attempt to think through the implications of the idea. What happens to those people in the past? What if they settle down and have children, and create a whole new family tree that reaches forward in time to the present day? What if they change some aspect of their own past? They aren’t exactly choosing quiet backwaters of history. Kirk ends up in the middle of a witch hunt, and Spock and McCoy are so far back in time that they could probably avert the development of the entire race if they aren’t careful. But the writer isn’t interested in any of this stuff, which would have elevated the episode to something really worthwhile. Instead we have time wasted on the usual nonsense: a one-week romance and some fights. Those seem to be the only ideas Trek is interested in really pursuing by this point, and there’s no mileage left in either of them, if they were ever worth doing in the first place.
A similar failure to take an idea further than its first germination happens when Spock devolves and gets angry with McCoy. I have been longing for a scene like this, with Spock getting McIdiot by the collar. That’s because the moronic doctor has spent the last three years saying things like this to Spock: “Now, you listen to me, you pointed-eared Vulcan.” So there’s absolutely no way to read this other than the man is a revolting racist. At long last, Spock says the words I’ve always wanted to hear from him:
“I don’t like that. I don’t think I ever did and now I’m sure.”
McArse still doesn’t get it, though, and can never accept that he has actually been doing something horribly wrong. “What’s happening to you Spock?” Well, he doesn’t want to put up with your racist abuse any more. But the moment is tarnished, and that’s because Spock is quite explicitly acting out of character. If that were a springboard to McCoy understanding how he feels, deep down, underneath the front of suppressed emotions, then we would actually have a worthwhile exploration of an idea, but that’s not going to happen, so instead it’s a plot beat for the sake of a bit of cheap drama, and then everyone moves on… almost. We do at least get the following exchange between Spock and his girlfriend of the week:
“You know what it is like to be alone, really alone?”
“Yes, I know what it is like.”
If you were ever in any doubt about whether being the target of xenophobic abuse has an impact on Spock, here it is spelt out for you. It doesn’t go even remotely far enough, but it’s certainly better than nothing. The sight of Spock with his hand around McBigot’s throat was enough to propel this episode into the upper reaches of anything classic Trek has to offer, and the pseudo-scientific magic door, in addition to that momentary redressing of the balance between the two old frenemies, helped to make this a thoroughly enjoyable late instalment in the final season. I have seen this episode interpreted as a metaphor for taking comfort in the past, but I see little comfort in the back catalogue of the Star Trek at this point in its history. The future is where it’s at. RP