Time travel episodes are some of the hardest for just about any series to pull off effectively. They generally involve planning, consideration for the future, and making sure not to endanger any basic rules of the series that the show works around. While some shows have always excelled at the time travel story line, namely “The Twilight Zone” and the British version of “Life on Mars,” many others fail, unable to create a conflict and solve it, without resorting to just pressing the magic reset button.
Star Trek sort of fails to create a solid time travel story, but it tries pretty goddamn hard in “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” one of the odder episodes that the series has ever done. The episode starts off with a fighter pilot chasing down a strange signal in 1960s America, as he approaches, he says that he sees a UFO, and as the camera peers out the windshield, we make out the distinct shape of the Enterprise. We then find out, via Kirk’s captain’s log that the ship has flown through a star and ended up back in time. Thinking fast, Kirk beams up the fighter pilot and now has to deal with having someone from another time learning about Star Fleet as well as knowing that his report and pictures of the Enterprise now are housed in a military installation. If the ship is going to escape back to its own time and guarantee their survival, they will have to return the captured Captain Christopher and will need to steal the solid evidence of the Enterprise’s presence.There’s some major conflicts at work here, but the episode rarely seems that interested in addressing them. Instead, we see several jokes about Kirk dealing with a computer that talks to him in a female voice and people from the ‘60s getting ridiculous reaction shots in front of girls, half-Vulcans and computers. Sure, I can accept that there is going to be some comedy in here, but I’d prefer it if the writers really picked one direction and went with it.
Instead, there’s surprisingly little actually going on in this episode. Spock researches the effect that Christopher disappearing from the timeline could have on the futures, McCoy is cautious, and Sulu gets to talk about things and eventually break into a building. From the time that Christopher is abducted to the Kirk and Sulu’s break in, virtually nothing happens. What makes this problem even more noticeable is just how bad the show is at beating us over the head with how the characters feel and think. I understand that Christopher wants to see his wife and wants to go home. I understand that Spock wants to do what is best to preserve the timeline. These are things I know because they are vastly surface emotions. I understand the characters, so I understand the drama.
So, it ultimately comes down to Sulu and Kirk having to steal the records from the wreckage of Christopher’s plane. It’s fun and exciting enough to watch them sneak around and start stealing evidence, and the way the deal with the MP by accidentally beaming him onto the ship is some goofy fun. Of course, it’s nothing without a Kirk brawl scene and while Sulu is rewriting the tapes, the captain goes all Gorn on a couple of officers at the base, giving Sulu enough time to rewrite the tapes and then beam out, leaving Kirk in the hand of his capturers and giving the Enterprise another complication.And that’s when the sort-of, not-really, but-I-guess-kinda hilarity really starts. You see, the pilots ask Kirk some questions, and then he tells them the truth about the future, and they totally think he’s lying. They think he’s crazy. Are you laughing yet? Yeah, neither am I, but that’s because I took out my humor flaps. I know that that kind of humor is a bit of a product of a different time, and it does work in the context of the episode, but it isn’t really a substitute for writing a good episode.
In a surprise that no one possibly could see coming, Spock, Sulu and Christopher return to the base to rescue Kirk, defeat the guards and attempt to leave, but Christopher pulls a gun and is stopped by a well placed Vulcan Neck Pinch. They haul everyone back up to the ship and prepare to embark on THE BIGGEST EPISODE RUINER SINCE “MUDD’S WOMEN.”Spock believes that if the Enterprise can accelerate around the sun at a certain speed and use the slingshot effect, shooting off the body’s gravity, they should be able to move backwards in time, and as they are doing that, they can time everything right so they can beam Christopher back into his fighter jet and beam the MP back into the base at the correct time so that they will believe that nothing involving the Enterprise transpired. They believe that Christopher and the MP will remember their actions, but they will have nothing to report, but if you’re moving backwards in time to a point when they wouldn’t have been able to report on seeing the Enterprise or dealing with Sulu and Kirk in the base, then why did they have to steal the film? Couldn’t they have just turned on their reflectors, waited for the warp-drive to start working again and then attempted this fucking ridiculous maneuver? They could have then avoided exposing themselves to even more people from a different time, and everything could have worked out a little better.
So unsurprisingly, it all works out. Christopher gets ready to spawn a kid that will go to Saturn, the Enterprise makes contact with Star Fleet, and the bumbling MP continues to bumble. It’s an episode with huge mistakes, but it turns them into little stories that ultimately end up doing little to help the episode.
Really, if it weren’t for the ridiculous shit with slingshotting through the sun into a time warp, I would probably like this episode a lot more. Instead, it feels like a pre-“Primer” relic, when time travel was handled poorly and giant gaps in story lines are mostly ignored.
Apparently, this was originally going to be part two of the story started in “The Naked Time.” Thanks, Wikipedia.
“Now you’re sounding like Spock.” “If you’re going to get nasty, I’m going to leave.”
Next Up: “Court Martial” which I’ll probably like solely on the basis of how talky it will be.