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Star Trek: Tomorrow is Yesterday

Colonel: "I am going to lock you up for two hundred years."
Kirk: "That ought to be just about right."

This was a fun one.

Writer D.C. Fontana, who penned several terrific Star Trek episodes, must have thought about what a viewer would want to see in a situation like this, and that's exactly what she gave us. We saw Captain Christopher, someone from "our time" (well, it was our time when it aired), learn about the Enterprise and Starfleet and aliens and how wonderful the future could be. And we saw Kirk and company dealing with their twentieth century counterparts. The best scene was probably Kirk telling his interrogator bits of the truth. He didn't seem truly concerned that he'd be trapped. He was probably pretty confident that Spock would get him out.

There are a few things that bother me now, although they didn't when I first saw it. Why didn't Kirk think about the consequences before telling Captain Christopher all about the future? Hasn't Kirk read science fiction? And transporting Christopher and the Sergeant back into the previous timeline was done in such a bizarre way. It might have worked better if they had both just disappeared from the Enterprise as they reached the appropriate timeline, or if their previous selves had disappeared and then reappeared after the beam in. Whatever. The logistics of time travel can make your head hurt.

But most of this episode works for me. There were several classic antagonistic Spock/McCoy exchanges. I enjoyed seeing Kirk and company sneaking around the air base, trying to steal the visual proof of the existence of UFO's. And Captain Christopher was likable. His character worked as both a willing ally and a dutiful P.O.W., adhering to duty under extraordinary circumstances. It would have been terribly unfair to make him an unwilling prisoner of time.

And we learned some tasty tidbits. There are only twelve ships like the Enterprise in Starfleet, which is a "combined service." Spock's rank was given as Lieutenant Commander, which I'm fairly certain wasn't mentioned before. And there is apparently only one transporter room. You'd think that on a ship the size of the Enterprise, there would be at least two, if not more.

Chicken soup in the transporter room? Really?

Ben says...

I like the contrast between this episode and Star Trek IV: Save the Whales, not so much for what it tells us about the Star Trek future as for what it tells us about how we thought about our present. The Sixties look militarized but neat, and the people who encounter the crew are all in the Air Force. By the Eighties, it's all chaos, punk rockers, and shouting in traffic. However, you still get the same military interrogation scene with the captured crewman telling the truth which no one believes (one trembles to think what that scene would look like today).

In fact, the whole thing is such an oft-repeated theme that it's fun to go back and see what may well be the first widely seen version (although Doctor Who was doing the same thing in Britain even earlier, I think this is still the series that introduced the plotline to U.S. audiences). Science fiction characters go back to the present where they originated, and hijinks ensue. You always have to run into your counterparts (Air Force Officers = Starfleet Officers) or famous people. In the end nothing much changes, and time travel then hangs over the series as a solution to most serious problems (but a solution which we constantly and conveniently forget).

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 3113.2, except that most of it took place on Earth in the late sixties. Kirk and Spock kept giving the future stardate. No adjustments for time travel, apparently.

— The shots of the base and the jets appear to be documentary footage. The first manned moon shot of the late sixties was mentioned. This episode was filmed in late 1966, long before the first moon landing in July, 1969.

— It's fun to see the Enterprise orbiting Earth. There were several references to UFOs, and to the Enterprise (and other ships from the future) as UFOs.

— Christopher is shocked – shocked, I tell you – to see women in the crew. Okay, he looked pleased, too.

— Christopher's unborn son will be Colonel Sean Jeffrey Christopher, who led the first Earth/Saturn probe.

— The faulty computer repair was completed on Sigma 14, a planet apparently dominated by unprofessional women obsessed with flirting. Giggly computer voice bad.

— When Christopher needed to draw something, Kirk handed him something that looked a lot like an Etch-a-Sketch. And Kirk got a door in the base open using an unidentified futuristic instrument. Was it a magic door lock picker?

— There are two "the bridge crew really need seatbelts" scenes. During the second one, Scott appeared to be crucified in front of his engines.

— This episode feels like it should have aired right after "The Naked Time." It certainly would have flowed a bit better than the black star explanation. It's sort of a shame that arc-like story episodes weren't being done back then.


Christopher: (entering the bridge) "And I never have believed in little green men."
Spock: "Neither have I."

Kirk: "I wouldn't mind so much if only it didn't get so... affectionate."
Spock: "It also has an unfortunate tendency to giggle."

Kirk: "Now you're sounding like Spock."
McCoy: "If you're going to get nasty, I'm going to leave."

Spock: "I made an error in my computations."
McCoy: "Oh? This could be an historic occasion."

McCoy: "Shouldn't they be coming up?"
Spock: "It is a fact, Doctor, that prowling by stealth is more time-consuming than a direct approach. In our case, a..."
McCoy: "Shouldn't you be working on your time warp calculations, Mister Spock?"
Spock: "I am."

Colonel: "Don't try to be funny. How did you get in?"
Kirk: "I popped in out of thin air."

Colonel: "What is that? Is that a uniform of some kind?"
Kirk: "This little thing? It's just something I slipped on."

Kirk: "Get your gear and report to the transporter room. And Captain Christopher, you only have about fifteen years, so you'd better hurry."

Time travel episodes were among the most popular on Star Trek. This was the first, and it was darned good. Three out of four little green men,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. You may be interested to know that this episode *was* originally intended to immediately follow "Naked Time", but apparently Roddenberry sat on Justman's story idea for a long time before giving it to Fontana to write.

  2. Thanks for that tidbit, Jerry. Always interested in info about Trek.

  3. As a kid I often engaged in the time honored Etch-A-Sketch tradition of drawing a staircase!

    This is another good one. It is fun to see the culture shock between past and future, or current and future, or past an future! It's why a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is so much fun. Well that, and it has Bing Crosby of course!

    Star Trek does have a lot of time travel episodes, and they largely work. This one is quite enjoyable and despite the very 60s vibes going on, believable to a strong degree too.


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