Tuesday, July 15, 2008

TOS Rewind #18: "Tomorrow is Yesterday"

Today's episode:  Tomorrow is Yesterday (1/26/1967)  The drink:  beer (Blue Moon).

I'll have Eric take the first crack at this one:

“Tomorrow is Yesterday" holds the distinction of being the first Star Trek episode that featured time travel in a significant way. There was a brief instance of time travel at the very end of “The Naked Time",  but it was inconsequential and had no impact on the story. In “Tomorrow is Yesterday",  however, the Enterprise ends up in 1969 and accidentally destroys a US Air Force jet (an F-4 Phantom, I believe). The pilot, Captain John  Christopher, is rescued, but Kirk and crew are then faced with three big problems:  how to get back to the 23rd century, how to avoid disrupting the timeline, and what to do with their “guest". These problems are further compounded when Spock discovers that Captain Christopher is destined to father the man who would command the first successful Earth-Saturn probe.

These problems are solved by using what they call the “light speed breakaway factor" to travel back to the instance when the Enterprise intercepts Captain Christopher’s jet and return him at that point. (Trivia note:  This is the same technique they use in Star Trek IV to time travel back to 20th century Earth.) I won’t get into the scientific implausibility of this—suffice it to say it’s another instance where suspension of disbelief is required. Otherwise, it’s a perfectly decent story. In  particular, I like the fact that the 20th century characters aren’t portrayed as ignorant, incompetent primitives in comparison to their 23rd century counterparts. One thing that surprises me about this episode, however, is that there is little or no commentary on the social/political situation in the United States of the late 1960s. It isn’t a big deal—later time travel episodes, like “Assignment Earth",  did so very effectively—it’s just surprising given Roddenberry’s passion for such commentary.

I don’t really have much more to say about this episode. The acting and directing are both good. It isn’t brilliant episode, but it is thought-provoking and entertaining, and that’s enough—they can’t all be gems.
First off, now that I've taken my long-ass vacation, it's time to get back on track with the Trek blogging.

As Eric said, this isn't one of the greats, though it is an entertaining one.  He also mentioned that this was the first real time travel episode, aside from The Naked Time.  I was reading today that this episode was originally intended as an immediate follow-up to that episode, which makes sense.  It would have been interesting to have had these two as a 2-parter.

The time travel plot device has since become a staple of the Trek story ecosystem (some would say a tired one).  Wait, is there such a thing as a "story ecosystem?"  Sounds like BS to me, but I'm going with it.  I remember really liking this one as a kid.  In those days, the time travel thing hadn't been done so much and it was very compelling.  The idea of the Enterprise hovering over "present day" Earth sounded cool.

Looking at it today, it comes off as a bit shallow, or a waste of a dramatic opportunity.  However, it does lay some important groundwork for the time travel stories to come.  One of the things that I noticed in this viewing was just how unfazed Kirk and the rest are about being in the past and having a guy aboard from the 60s.  Kirk seems to be actually amused by the whole thing and almost acts disappointed when we learns that they have to return Capt. Christopher to Earth.  It's so sad when your amusement is thwarted by history.  The time travel idea would soon be used for a far more serious end in City on the Edge of Forever.  Some of the very same ideas thrown about casually in this episode get more serious exploration.

Eric talked about the "slingshot" time warp trick already.  The other thing it reminded me of was the kooky ending of Superman:  The Movie when he flies around the Earth to turn back the clock.  I'm sure there are plenty of other examples of this idea being used in the sci-fi/adventure/action realm.

I sampled the "remastered" version of this episode.  I think this time it does improve on the original.  For one, you actually get to see the Enterprise flying into the Sun and the breakaway.  In the original, the Enterprise model just bounces around in place.  Of course, like all the "updates," the new f/x just add a superficial layer onto the the show.  Fun to see, but hardly essential.

Next time:  “Court Martial"

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