The Great Star Trek Rewatch: Tomorrow is Yesterday

When an encounter with a black star throws the Enterprise back to the late 1960s, the US Air Force registers them as a UFO and sends a fighter jet up to investigate. After the Enterprise’s tractor beam inadvertently destroys the jet, they beam the pilot aboard, only to realise that temporal cross-contamination could be disastrous for their future. Will this twentieth century man be forced to stay aboard the Enterprise forever? And besides, how exactly is the Enterprise itself going to get home?

Yes, we’re here at the first time travel episode, so it’s time to get a few things out of the way. I’m not a fan of time travel episodes in general, and for two very good reasons: first, as a physicist, the sheer amount of disbelief I have to suspend to not think about paradoxes and impossibilities is tipped over the limit by time travel (in all but the one second per second into the future direction), and secondly, I watch Star Trek to see the future, not episodes set in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. So, whilst this episode isn’t outright bad like say The Squire of Gothos, it was never destined to be one of my top picks. And of course technically Captain Braxton and his 29th century timeship should have showed up to fix all this anyway.

How things would be if I were in charge of the Enterprise

I can’t help feeling that a lot of the trouble in this episode could have been solved by having the right procedures in place.

  • When Captain Christopher was beamed aboard the Enterprise, why let him roam around freely and learn about the future anyway? They could have kept him under sedation from the instant he beamed aboard, or just beamed him directly to the surface – perhaps going so far as to make it look like he ejected from his aircraft when it was destroyed. I guess his intel was at least useful in destroying all photographic evidence of the Enterprise.
  • Indeed, when the base security guard is beamed aboard, Spock says it wouldn’t be a good idea to let him roam around the ship – why did no one say this before?

Other points of interest

  • No more ‘Spacefleet’ – the Enterprise now reports to “Starfleet Control”.
  • A point from the last episode – McCoy describes the food aboard ship as having been “reconstituted”. In this episode we see that the transporter room has three food slots, which can be used to summon meals directly. Presumably this is useful if you have ravenous guests or are on a long transporter shift, but it seems like an odd place to want to eat a full meal – especially as there’s nowhere to sit down. At least it means a yeoman doesn’t have to carry a tray through the halls, I suppose.
  • Tractor beams can destroy objects which they are not designed to hold. In TNG it seemed like the tractor beam could be used to hold anything and everything, so maybe tractor technology improves over time.
  • It seemed odd that Spock did not think to check if Captain Christopher’s descendants were historically significant on his first computer search – surely a quick grep through Wikipedia would have found a connection to his (to be) famous son. Also, there’s no way to account for less direct effects – he might have saved the life of someone whose descendants would go on to be historically significant, or prompted an important realisation over coffee, or any similarly convoluted chain of events. Of course, once it was discovered that his son would be important, it felt like the crew were less interested in Captain Christopher than in preserving his testicles.
  • I’ve always felt a bit irked by how happy Captain Christopher was to learn he would have a son in future, as if his two daughters just weren’t as good as having a male offspring.
  • The Enterprise stopped off at planet Cygnet IV prior to this episode, in order to have their computer reprogrammed. Cygnet IV is female-dominated, and so they gave the computer a more flirtatious personality. Oh, those silly female programmers!
  • At the end of the episode, Captain Christopher and the security guard seem to be beamed back into their own bodies somehow, and it’s unclear if they have any memory of what happened. How does this work? Was it some sort of overwrite or merge, like when you copy a file to a location where it already exists? If they needed to be beamed back to where and when they came from, it should have been shortly after they were beamed away in the first place. The Enterprise went back in time a few days, but it didn’t undo the events of the episode in the process.
  • According to the Star Trek Chronology, the Saturn mission led by Captain Christopher’s son took place circa 2009. Of course, in the real world, humanity hasn’t even made it to Mars yet.
  • The Enterprise is one of only 12 starships of its kind.

Summary – Tomorrow is Yesterday: When it comes to Star Trek, I enjoy watching episodes about tomorrow more than ones about yesterday.

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