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Star Trek The Animated Series: Yesteryear

The Agents of Doux are covering The Animated Series with "discussion reviews." Mikey starts us off.

Mikey Heinrich: So until a couple of months ago, I'd never heard of D.C. Fontana, much to my shame. Since then I've listened to a couple interesting Youtube think pieces about her and I get more and more impressed.

In any case, the internet tells me that this is the only episode of ST:TAS that she wrote, which is a shame because this one's really good. Investigating the big time portal thing from "City on the Edge of Forever," the crew is somewhat surprised when a random Vulcan named Spock pops back out of it alongside Captain Kirk. This is a little disconcerting, as none of them have ever met the guy.

So yes, obviously it's a "time travel has changed history" story, but with a really clever twist that I don't think I've ever seen before or since. See, Spock was supposed to go back in time to Vulcan and save a younger version of himself from being killed. Because Spock was outside of Time with Kirk checking out the early history of Orion, he wasn't around to do this, and so young Spock died, his parents split up, his mother died in a shuttlecraft accident, and now there's some rando Andorean dude acting as the ship's Science Officer and Kirk's Number One.

This is interesting, because it means that the "correct" version of history is the one where Spock uses time travel to interfere with his own past, and when he wasn't on hand to do that, the version of history that did NOT have a random time traveler interfering in things is the "wrong" one. The natural flow of time includes a neat little loop of Spock re-enacting The Wonder Years.

It's cool to see the usual "It's a mistake to mess with history!" trope turned inside out like that. I liked it a lot.

Oh, and the Andorean first officer is surprisingly chill about the whole "We have to go back and fix history, which will probably write you out of existence. We cool?" and he's all like "Yeah, man. Family, amiright? It's all good."

Billie Doux: I always like good continuity. "The City on the Edge of Forever," of course, but also Spock's pet sehlet was mentioned in "Journey to Babel." And yes, it's really interesting that this episode implies that Spock was supposed to die when he was seven, that our current timeline was the changed one. And what happened to Mr. Andorian first officer? You'd think that Spock would at least look him up in the library computer and find out he was someone else's first officer now.

The scene where Spock and Spock lost their pet I-Chaya sooner than expected actually got to me. I'm such a sucker for a good animal story.

I did notice some negatives. The little sexist talk Spock had with Spock about mom, for instance. The outfits that the Vulcan kids were wearing, the blue boots and the arm strap with the black speedos, made me laugh out loud every time I saw them. I tried hard to think of what they reminded me of, but couldn't come up with something funny. Maybe it'll come to me. But it didn't look like an outfit Spock, or really, anyone, would be caught dead in, even when he was seven.

The Vulcan names Selek, Sasak and Sepek reminded me of an anecdote in an early Star Trek book, where someone submitted as a joke a list of practically every possible Vulcan male name in existence that started with S and ended with K. What book was that in? I don't remember, but it stayed with me.

Mikey: Yeah, the Old Yeller starring Spock stuff got me more than I want to admit, too. Apparently the network really wanted to cut that part and Gene R. went to bat for D.C. Fontana's script.

I'll have you know that I'm currently wearing blue boots, a black speedo, and arm bands even as I type this. It's making the other Starbucks patrons act super uncomfortable.

Billie: Oooh, I just realized what those outfits reminded me of – the outfits that the Capellans wore in "Friday's Child." Thankfully, the Vulcan kid costumes lack the fur and those frightening horsetail topknots.

Mikey: Clearly there were a lot of drugs going on in both cultures. I wonder if that particular look was just popular with the kids that year, like that summer in the 80s when we all thought parachute pants were a good idea. Like, do adult Vulcans of Spock's generation hang out and talk like, "Man, remember that fall when we all thought blue boots, black speedos and arm bands were just the coolest look? How ridiculous! My kid just got dressed up like that for a wacky throwback day at their Vulcan middle school!"

And what's with Kirk being such a dick at the end with the whole "Oh, it was just your beloved saber tooth puppy who died? Who cares. Screw your beloved childhood pet." Not cool, Jim.

CoramDeo: Finally got to this last night. This one was great, admittedly better than I was expecting from this show. I think it’s largely due to D.C. Fontana, who was such a wonderful writer, especially for Trek.

I loved the return of the Guardian of Forever, and all the little canon nods as Billie said. It’s interesting; this is actually one of only two episodes of TAS that are typically considered official Trek canon. So not only does this imply that Spock was always "supposed" to die at age seven, but whoever is in charge of deciding what is and isn’t official canon was totally okay, with the benefit of hindsight, with that being an established part of the universe. Which is kind of awesome, actually.

Billie: This episode does get high marks for D.C. Fontana's genuinely interesting and creative Spock plot. IMDb says this is the most popular episode of the animated series, which doesn't surprise me. But I guess that means it's all downhill from here. And I still can't help thinking about how much better this series would have been with original series music.

Mikey: I promise that there are several still to come that I personally enjoyed a great deal :)

Part of me does wonder why, after the affairs of "City on the Edge of Forever," that humanity wouldn't have stayed as far away from the time portal as they can possibly get, but then I remember what humanity is like and realize, yep, we absolutely would be right back there accidentally destroying history twenty different times before lunch. Five of them just to "own the libs."

CoramDeo: Mikey, I won’t say when, but if you stick with your Star Trek watch-through, at some point you may well find that a few Trek writers wound up having very similar questions about the Guardian and ideas about human nature.

Juliette: Sorry, I've not had a chance to re-watch! I do remember this as probably the best episode of TAS, though. That's not a criticism of the other episodes – just that this one stuck out in my mind as particularly good. And I think it really added to our general view of Vulcan.

Mikey: If they'd retained this level of quality and then the real music, there'd be more than 22 episodes. I'd give it nine out of ten Old Yellers.

Billie: Agreed.


  1. On the off chance anyone wonders, the Youtubers I tend to watch for Star Trek content are Jessie Gender and Steve Shives.

    Jessie does a fascinating intersection of Star Trek/Philosophy/and Gender Issues particularly from a trans perspective.

    I have no idea if either of them are problematic in some way, I'm pretty oblivious about that sort of thing. I wouldn't guess so, but who knows.

    Council of Geeks is OK, but I tend to disagree with a lot of their opinions on Doctor Who which is a bit of a hurdle for me.

  2. Star Trek has certainly always been a hotbed of gender discussion. In 1966, the show put an African American woman on the bridge, which was so radical and courageous. But then they put every female crew member in a miniskirt that barely covered their butts, and female guest stars wore costumes so revealing that their breasts had to be scotch-taped. Next Gen gave us three female cast members, but then the one in the non-healthcare role had to be written out. I remember how jazzed everyone was when we finally got Janeway, but it took freaking forever.

    I think that's why I'm fond of Discovery with a black woman as the lead. It was way past time.


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