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Tomorrow Is Yesterday

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at September 30, 2005 - 7:12 PM GMT

See Also: 'Tomorrow is Yesterday' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: While US Air Force planes are launched to investigate a UFO, the Enterprise crew discovers that in escaping from a black star, they have been flung into Earth's atmosphere in the late 1960s. Before deflectors can be used to hide the ship from sensors, pilot John Christopher gets too close and a tractor beam destroys his plane. Kirk has Christopher beamed aboard but quickly realizes that he dares not return the man to Earth, for if he reveals what he knows of the future, the future might change. Spock, however, discovers that an unborn son of Christopher's will become an important astronaut, necessitating that the crew find a way to return him while eradicating all evidence of the Enterprise's presence. While Kirk beams down to try to mangle Earth records, Scotty and Spock devise a plan to slingshot the Enterprise around the sun, which will send the ship first backward, then forward in time. Christopher is returned at a moment before he got a good look at the Enterprise and the ship successfully returns to its own century.

Analysis: From the moment it was established in "The Naked Time" that manipulation of extreme velocities could create the conditions for time travel, visits to the past became both logical and inevitable for Star Trek. There have been complaints with the latter Trek series that it became an over-used gimmick, with Archer jumping over too many centuries during the so-called Temporal Cold War on Enterprise. But this first foray is a brilliant little gem, if not one of the original series' strongest episodes scientifically. "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" begins on Earth in the era in which the series was filmed, showing how 20th century humans would likely react to the presence of a starship. Only after the opening do we learn what the Enterprise is doing in the atmosphere of a U.S. that still has fighter jets. Someone must have dropped the ball at navigation, because the ship bounced too close to what we now call a black hole without noticing its presence, and although its trajectory in space was unaffected, it shot through time with its engines knocked out.

Kirk welcomes Christopher enthusiastically, delighted to be able to show off the future of humanity to a human who's archaic by his standards yet also a fellow captain, someone with an interest in aviation and technology. He has not yet realized the risks of returning him; Spock points those out, with a relentless logic that Kirk calls "most annoying." It's the butterfly effect from the point of its source: if Christopher goes back and reports what he's seen, the ripples may destroy what is to be. Yet if Christopher does not go back, the same potential consequences apply. Kirk and McCoy are much more concerned with the human part of the equation than the Vulcan: is the Enterprise's future glorious enough to make Christopher forget his own past? Could he be retrained, reeducated? Christopher says nothing could make him forget his family, and despite his initial wonder at seeing the ship, he is willing to use violence to ensure that he does. Kirk understands; it's what he would do, too.

Curiously, Spock seems to have investigated only Christopher's career in determining what would constitute a "significant contribution" to society. It is much later before he thinks to check whether the man had any yet-unborn children - nor, apparently, does he consider that Christopher's absence may have a great effect on the lives of his wife, daughters, siblings, friends, colleagues, fellow pilots and young people Christopher might have taught by example. It's rather annoying when Spock applies his own standards of what makes a life worthy of note - presumably scientific progress, political fame or military heroism - and gratifying when Christopher demonstrates delight at learning that his child will be his greatest legacy. Often that's what women are told is the most important thing, particularly in Christopher's era, while men are pushed to put work and finances first, so it's an interesting role-reversal even as the man is glorying that he will have a boy.

The episode is split between the serious philosophical questions that arise from Christopher's presence on the Enterprise and the romp of trying to erase records of the Enterprise's presence on Christopher's world. Kirk has one of his more entertaining physical fight sequences while buying time for Sulu to escape with the documents, taking on three guards who apparently don't want to shoot him, then responding to interrogation questions by announcing that he's a little green man from outer space. The truth within this lie is particularly humorous because it echoes an exchange earlier in the episode when Christopher first steps onto the Enterprise bridge, having accepted that he is in a spaceship from the future without ever wondering whether he's hallucinating or being tricked; he declares calmly that he has never believed in little green men, to which Spock responds, "Neither have I."

These are both opportunities for the audience to think about the potential absurdity of the series as a whole: we accept Star Trek's future as possible reality, but how would we respond if we actually found ourselves in Christopher's position? For a lot of people the answer would be to do what the police officer beamed up by accident from the records office does upon finding himself in the transporter room: standing absolutely still, refusing to move, hoping it will all go away. Christopher, who's trained to deal with the unknown, never shows any fear facing the gigantic starship hovering over the U.S., nor when he finds himself trapped in sickbay after a failed escape attempt. He is perhaps a bit too good to be true, but he's the one we're expected to relate to.

While the episode spends most of its time on the concrete dilemma of how to obtain and destroy records of the Enterprise's accident ("You seem to have a lot of them," Christopher says straight-faced, delighted to have an explanation for all the UFO sightings), Spock and Scotty work offscreen on the more esoteric problem of how to get the ship back to its own era. The result they come up with makes the previous plot unnecessary, for the second time travel stops the records from being created in the first place. It's a fairly simple slingshot with some ship-shaking and lots of crewmembers leaning left and right, lacking the giant heads and funky sounds of time travel in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but it brings about the same result.

The problems with this method of setting right the past are established for all future episodes. Why do Christopher and the guard lose their memories at the moment they re-enter their own time, while the crew remembers their presence, even though once the time loop is closed they should never have been on the ship in the first place? More importantly, at the moment Christopher is beamed up, why does Kirk's future not cease to exist? Presumably it is already "set" that Christopher will be returned to father the child who will further the space program, because otherwise one would expect a result from the meddling like in the later episode "The City on the Edge of Forever," where a change to the timeline causes the ship and everything not within the sphere of influence of the time portal to cease to exist. There's no need here as later for a corps of temporal officers to help set history right.

Effects-wise, "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" has not held up well; on the DVD the nacelles disappear when Enterprise moves away from Earth due to some kind of blue-screen dissolve, and the little plastic ship in the sky looks absolutely comical. There's also an odd, silly little plot about the ship's computer having been given a female personality during repairs on a female-dominated planet, played for comedy with a rather misogynistic undertone, best ignored now unless one gets a kick out of Spock's apparent jealousy of the computer hitting on the captain. The military goons on Earth are much funnier anyway: "We are not dummies, Mister!" Too bad Kirk had not yet coined his 20th century classic rejoinder "Double dumb-ass on you!"

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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